SBA plan addresses GAO concerns

The General Accounting Office highlighted four major information technology challenges for the Small Business Administration in its Performance and Accountability Series report released Jan. 17.

1. Continue to improve oversight of lending partners.

2. Focus the 8(a) program on helping firms obtain contracts.

3. Streamline and automate disaster loan processing.

4. Strengthen the agency workforce, IT systems, budget formulation process and financial management practices.

Successfully resolving the fourth issue will facilitate the resolution of the other three.

GAO's concerns range from the fact that SBA's budget, accounting and performance information systems are not integrated, its system to track the 8(a) program "does not meet the information needs of headquarters or district officials" and auditors have found inadequate controls on user accounts.

SBA has already started a three-phase systems modernization effort, scheduled to be completed in fiscal 2003. The first phase includes the creation of a loan monitoring system. In October 2001 the second phase will begin to address integration of the agency's budget, accounting and performance systems. And in 2002, the agency will start planning how to deal with the many information needs of the 8(a) program.

Each initiative seems as though it will rectify the problems at the source of GAO's concerns, but the report stresses that it is "too soon to tell" until the modernization is complete.

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