After more than a year, the Small Business Administration finally has a new leader.
In a swift vote on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Maria Contreras-Sweet to head the agency devoted to ensuring the health and vitality of the nation's small businesses. She was nominated by President Obama in January and has been in a stasis since February, when a senate panel held its first confirmation hearing. At the time, a proper vote wasn’t possible, as not enough senators were in attendance.
Contreras-Sweet takes over the reins from Karen Mills, an administrator with deep roots in the venture capital and private equity worlds. She was largely credited with increasing the SBA's loan guarantees to record numbers during her tenure. And under her watch, her office was elevated to a cabinet-level position.
Similarly, Contreras-Sweet comes to the SBA from the private equity world. Before co-founding the Los Angeles-based ProAmerica Bank, where she worked with small businesses, she co-founded Fortius Holdings, a private-equity fund, where she served as president.
She has also worked in the public sector, as head of California's Business, Transportation and Housing Administration.
Though ample qualifications, she has a big job ahead, as small businesses continue to struggle under the pressure of mixed economic conditions. She'll also have a magnifying glass on her from the get go.
Among other groups, the National Federation of Independent Business is particularly looking at whether the new administrator will rein in supposedly burdensome regulations that may hinder small-business growth, as well as prop up jobs.
There's also been movement among some members of Congress to reform the SBA. In February, Representative Sam Graves (R., Mo.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at raising the government's small business contracting goals and eliminate the potential for bundling contracts, which could make the process more competitive for small businesses.