Friday January 13, 2012 | 11:01 AM

President Obama's decision to elevate the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration to Cabinet-level rank, according to published reports including the Wall Street Journal, has a major Maine element. The future of that cabinet level rank is clouded, though.

The current head of the SBA is Maine native Karen Mills, a former chair of the Maine's Council on Competitiveness and the Economy under former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat. Mills lives in Brunswick and is married to Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College. Among those long pushing for the SBA administrator to be elevated to Cabinet rank is Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate small business committee.


Snowe was quick this morning to praise the decision, saying in a statement that, she has discussed the idea with President Obama and written him a letter on the topic.

"I was an early and ardent advocate for the (Obama) administration to elevate the SBA Administrator position to the Cabinet level since before President Obama took office because, given the central job-creation role small businesses play in our nation’s economy, it is absolutely essential the head of the SBA have a seat at the Cabinet table with the president," Snowe said.

(Updated: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also has lauded the decision to elevate Mills’ job to Cabinet-level rank, saying, “As a former New England Administrator of the SBA, I know how valuable SBA's programs are to many of our small businesses. SBA warrants Cabinet-level recognition to demonstrate the critical importance of small businesses to our economy, and having Maine's Karen Mills at the table is a plus.)

The SBA administrator was last a Cabinet level position during the Clinton administration.

However, it is a promotion that carries some uncertainty. Also today, Obama is reportedly going to propose consolidating six trade and commerce-oriented federal agencies, including the SBA. So what would happen to the Cabinet level status of the SBA head if that happens? That remains to be seen.

(Updated as of 2 p.m.: Also praising the decision to elevate Mills was Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

“The voices of our small businesses need to be heard at the highest levels,” Michaud said in a statement. “This move is an important step in the right direction and will hopefully improve the attention our government pays to the needs of small businesses.”)


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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