SBA flunks data collection on serving limited-English people, GAO says

SBA fully met only one of four federal guidelines for limited-English services

The Small Business Administration has fully met only one of the four federal guidelines for providing accessible services to people with what is named "Limited English Proficiency (LEP)," according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Of the four published LEP guidelines from the Justice Department, the SBA has fully implemented one and partially implemented two others, states the report released April 27. The agency hasn't performed the recommended data collection needed to assess the needs of the LEP population it serves, the report said.

Under an executive order issued in 2000, federal agencies are required to evaluate their interactions with people with LEP and to determine if they need to develop a plan and recipient guidance to ensure access to services by the LEP population. To date, the Justice Department has received LEP plans from 58 agencies.

The GAO selected three agencies for further review: the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the SBA. The audit evaluated whether the agencies met the four guidelines: agency commitment and planning, data collection, delivery of services ,and monitoring.

The IRS met all four elements and FEMA met two, for data collection and service delivery. SBA fully met only one element, provision of services; partially met the guidelines for agency planning and monitoring; and did not meet the guideline for data collection, the report said.

“SBA does not conduct a national needs assessment,” the report stated. “Without being able to identify the size and characteristics of its LEP client base, and without tracking information on the number of LEP clients it serves, SBA may find it difficult to estimate the size, location and specific needs of the eligible LEP populations, a necessary step to ensure that LEP persons are given equal access to its programs and activities.”

SBA management agreed with the GAO’s recommendations to make final its LEP plan and guidance and to conduct a national needs assessment, the report said.

The report said that the results from IRS, FEMA and the SBA compliance with LEP guidelines do not necessarily apply to other agencies, and overall, the extent of compliance among federal agencies can't be determined.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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