Congress Restores Operating Authority for Key Small Business International Trade Agency

Small-business transactions will resume at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), after many months of delay. On Sept. 27, Congress approved an extension of the agency’s operating authority.

All new transactions at OPIC had been on hold since April 2008, when the agency’s operating authority had expired.

OPIC’s Small- and Mid-Sized Enterprise Finance (SMEF) Division, which accounts for over 80 percent of the agency’s transactions, had developed a large backlog of unapproved deals during the long wait.

OPIC participation in small-business international trade transactions is critical for small companies. Few private sector lenders or investors will risk backing the expansion of U.S. small businesses into emerging markets without some form of U.S. federal government backstop — which is exactly what OPIC provides. In its last full year of operation, OPIC’s SMEF Division facilitated over $500 million in small-business international trade transactions, up from just $6 million in FY 2001.

The House had passed a lengthy extension of OPIC’s charter by a wide margin, as had the Senate Committee handling the bill. But Senate rules permit one or a few Senators to effectively block many bills from being voted on.

The longer OPIC reauthorization, as well as more than 90 other bills — a record — fell victim to the unprecedented use of this back-door Senate procedure.

The full Senate finally broke through this thicket and revived OPIC’s operating authority, but only until March 6, 2009, when another Congressional renewal will be needed.

SBEA hopes that the Senate’s unanimous approval of this five-month operating authority for OPIC now will be followed by a much longer extension of authority.