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Ernst: Bringing Washington Opportunities to the Heartland

The U.S. government is the world’s largest customer – required by federal law to consider buying from small businesses. So, why aren’t Iowans sharing in the bounty?

Here in the heartland, we’ve seen a steep decline in government contracting activity over the past decade. In 2009, 945 Iowa small businesses participated in federal contracting as vendors. By 2022, that number fell to 336, representing nearly a 65% loss.

While our state is home to some fantastic small businesses, they’re clearly struggling to get their foot in the government’s door.

Just the words “government contract” alone conjure up images of bureaucratic red tape and mountains of paperwork. Small businesses without teams of expensive experts often don’t know where to begin.

That’s why, as Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee, I’m leading the Accountability and Clarity in Contracts to Engage Small Suppliers (ACCESS) for Small Businesses Act to reform the contracting landscape and reduce barriers to entry.

This bill will ensure that federal solicitations are written in plain language with critical terms in the title and description. It also will encourage the government to contract with a variety of small businesses and force agencies to testify before Congress when contracting goals go unmet.

The ACCESS for Small Businesses Act is a significant first step, but reducing regulations alone won’t solve the grave issues in government contracting, especially when it comes to the Department of Defense. Our nation’s long-term safety requires a hardy industrial base.

When our security is dependent on just a few small businesses rather than upheld by many, we weaken our ability to quickly and effectively respond to threats and crises, hike costs for taxpayers, increase the vulnerability of domestic supply chains, and harm our competitive advantage against our greatest adversaries.

By some counts, China is already the world’s second-largest arms producer – and we know they will not take a timeout. Xi and Putin dream of seeing America’s defense industrial base atrophy while we stand idly by.

I fought last year to prevent China and Russia from exploiting our research and development grants and to give small businesses the flexibility to propose a wider range of technological solutions to government agencies’ most pressing concerns. Still, we must do more to ensure a broad swath of American businesses are participating in federal contracting, which means Iowans too!

Today, I’m hosting a first-of-its-kind Entrepreneur Expo at my alma mater, Iowa State University. With 20 federal agencies and 11 state entities represented, the event will give Iowa small business owners unprecedented access to government programs and opportunities to network across the federal marketplace and learn about federal research and development.

With everyone in one room learning from each other, I’m confident that our brand-new entrepreneurs, experienced owners, and buyers from the D.C. bubble will benefit.

I’m so proud that the state that raised me and gave me the opportunity to serve is home to groundbreaking innovators and entrepreneurs. I’ll continue pushing Washington to look beyond Austin, Boston, and Silicon Valley to uphold our security and produce the next great idea.