Home > Congressional Research Service, government and politics, small business and entrepreneurship > CRS — Small Business Size Standards: A Historical Analysis of Contemporary Issues

CRS — Small Business Size Standards: A Historical Analysis of Contemporary Issues

December 27, 2012

Small Business Size Standards: A Historical Analysis of Contemporary Issues (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

Small business size standards are of congressional interest because the standards determine eligibility for receiving Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance as well as federal contracting and tax preferences. Although there is bipartisan agreement that the nation’s small businesses play an important role in the American economy, there are differences of opinion concerning how to define them. The Small Business Act of 1953 (P.L. 83-163, as amended) authorized the SBA to establish size standards for determining eligibility for federal small business assistance. The SBA currently uses two size standards to determine SBA program eligibility: industry-specific size standards and an alternative size standard based on the applicant’s maximum tangible net worth and average net income after federal taxes.

The SBA’s industry-specific size standards determine program eligibility for firms in 1,047 industrial classifications in 18 sub-industry activities described in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The size standards are based on the following five measures: number of employees, average annual receipts in the previous three years, asset size, annual megawatt hours of electric output in the preceding fiscal year, or a combination of number of employees and barrel per day refining capacity. Overall, the SBA currently classifies about 97% of all employer firms as small. These firms represent about 30% of industry receipts.

The SBA has always based its size standards on economic analysis of each industry’s overall competitiveness and the competitiveness of firms within each industry. However, in the absence of precise statutory guidance and consensus on how to define small, the SBA’s size standards have often been challenged, typically by industry representatives seeking to increase the number of firms eligible for assistance and by Members concerned that the size standards may not adequately target assistance to firms that they consider to be truly small.

During the 111 th Congress, P.L. 111-240, the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, authorized the SBA to establish an alternative size standard using maximum tangible net worth and average net income after federal taxes for both the 7(a) and 504/CDC loan guaranty programs. It also established, until the SBA acted, an interim alternative size standard for the 7(a) and 504/CDC programs of not more than $15 million in tangible net worth and not more than $5 million in average net income after federal taxes (excluding any carry-over losses) for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application. It also required the SBA to conduct a detailed review of not less than one-third of the SBA’s industry size standards every 18 months.

This report provides a historical examination of the SBA’s size standards, assesses competing views concerning how to define a small business, and discusses how the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 might affect program eligibility. It also discusses H.R. 585, the Small Business Size Standard Flexibility Act of 2011, which would authorize the SBA’s Office of Chief Counsel for Advocacy to approve or disapprove a size standard proposed by a federal agency if it deviates from the SBA’s size standards. The SBA’s Administrator currently has that authority. It also discusses H.R. 3987, the Small Business Protection Act of 2012, and H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which would require the SBA to make available a justification when establishing or approving a size standard that the size standard is appropriate for each individual industry classification within a grouping of four-digit NAICS codes. These two bills also address the SBA’s recent practice of combining size standards within industrial groups as a means to reduce the complexity of its size standards and to provide greater consistency for industrial classifications that have similar economic characteristics.

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