During the darkest days of 2009, Washington Democrats spent our money while puzzling over why small businesses refused to create jobs. The president had offered help. Bills were passed. Lots of money was spent. The SBA got involved. Banks were put on notice. Jobs continued to vanish. In 2010 Barack Obama signed legislation with the words “small business” in the title, but employers were still hesitant to take the bait. More than two years after the Recovery Act was signed no amount of explaining, analyzing, or optimistic number crunching will put happy smiles on the faces of nearly 14 million Americans still looking for work.
The recession handed our president an extraordinary opportunity to test his belief in the viability of a government-directed economy. His experiment failed, and the private sector’s refusal to comply is a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration. Talk of small businesses being the bedrock of our economy has dwindled. Federal job creation efforts continue to be measured with the “created or saved” slogan, confusing taxpayers as to just what they purchased with their stimulus investment.
Unfortunately, the president is no quitter. Mr. Obama has decided where the next wave of jobs will come from. He is no longer looking to the present, perhaps because the present is so disappointing. Washington is focusing on the future.
The president is investing a lot of effort in his clean energy agenda. The Economy, Energy, and Environment (“E3”) program forces an unlikely alliance between government and manufacturing, confirming our suspicions about Democratic Washington’s inability to comprehend what makes businesses tick, and why the private sector responds so negatively to schemes to control the direction of our free market economy.
E3 stacks the deck in Washington’s favor. Five agencies are involved, including the Departments of Labor, Energy, and Commerce, the EPA, and the Small Business Administration. E3’s purpose, which will send many would-be participant business owners running for the exit, is to “. . . strategically apply Federal expertise, tools, and funding to develop and implement comprehensive sustainable manufacturing practices.”1 The keyword is “federal.”
A big problem with E3 is that it relies on the competency of government. An alphabet soup conglomeration of agencies calls the shots. The Departments of Energy and Commerce conduct on-site assessments of manufacturers, the Department of Labor helps screen and recruit employees, and the SBA connects businesses with lenders.2
The Department of Energy plays a pivotal role, despite difficulties encountered with carrying out its Recovery Act responsibilities. Problems at DOE were detailed in a recent government report:
Measuring the impact of Recovery Act funding has been a challenge for DOE. It has had particular difficulty providing an accurate assessment of the act’s impact on jobs, environmental risk reduction, and the life-cycle costs of its cleanup program. First, it has used different methodologies to assess and report jobs created, which provided very different and potentially misleading pictures.3
E3 calls on the EPA to assess “toxic chemical use reduction,”4 but a 2011 watchdog agency report showed that toxic chemicals are a problem for the EPA:
EPA has yet to develop sufficient chemical assessment information for limiting public exposure to many chemicals that may pose substantial health risks.5
E3 is the most extreme example yet of the Obama administration’s determination to direct U.S. manufacturing in pursuit of partisan goals. Will manufacturers go for a program that so thoroughly meshes their businesses with the federal bureaucracy? E3 pilot projects are being touted, but we are already cynically familiar with anecdotes about federal stimulus achievements. When the private sector is ready to embrace clean energy, it will develop clean energy. The president has yet to learn that when government comes knocking on the door offering help, everyone runs.