SBA and Data Reporting
The SBA has always viewed increasing entrepreneurship as one of their primary strategic objectives. They hope to strengthen entrepreneurial ecosystems through a variety of strategic partnerships to provide tailored training, mentoring, and advising services that support entrepreneurs during their business growth. (FY16 1.3) Assessing quantitative data on the results of these programs has posed a problem for this organization for many years. The SBA acknowledged the problem in their FY 2016 Congressional Budget Justification, saying that the type of data they capture on small businesses and account information is restricted due to privacy concerns and statutory restrictions. (FY16 1.3)
Adequate reporting of data is not a new problem for the SBA. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote a report which found that because longstanding organizational challenges have affected program oversight, the SBA has not documented an assessment of its overall organizational structure. (GAO - Internal SBA) Such an internal assessment could help the SBA determine where they're going wrong in reporting lending and borrowing data. A second GAO report determined that senior SBA leaders have not prioritized long-term organizational transformation in areas like information technology (IT). (GAO - executive SBA) Problems with technology make the SBA unlikely to have the means to easily and cohesively report data. Each regional office reports its own lending and borrowing data, and each does so in different formats (PDF, excel, etc.), which makes analyzing SBA data almost impossible. These problems have been identified by GAO and other organizations several times in the past, and yet the agency has made very limited progress in addressing most of their recommendations. (GAO - technology issues)
To better assess program progress and enhance use of evidence, the agency requested legislative authority to collect better data from its grantees to be used for internal evaluation purposes. This authority would give the SBA the ability to collect identifiable information on small businesses receiving assistance. (FY16 1.3) Adding program evaluations and similar program assessments to the list of allowable purposes would help the SBA to better understand program effectiveness for small business counseling and training assistance and help use best practices to serve other SBDCs. When does the sensitivity of lending data outweigh the potential benefit of the SBA gathering more relevant statistics on their program successes (or lack thereof)?
Another problem occurs when there are data reporting problems in organizations affiliated with the SBA. For example, a GAO report on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs could not determine their compliance with SBA spending requirements because most agencies submitted incorrect data. (GAO SBIR/SBTT) GAO also found problems in collecting and reporting data within Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC), and recommended that the SBA provide guidance on how to collect and report data on their investments in minority, women, and veteran owned businesses. (GAO SBIC) How can the SBA give such recommendations to its subsidiary programs when it fails to adequately report its own data?
Concrete data from the SBA and its subsidiaries and affiliated programs is difficult to find, largely due to internal SBA practices, including management and technological shortcomings. Various GAO reports suggesting the SBIC consult with the SBA to determine best data collection and reporting methods are flawed in that the SBA hasn't established those best practices for itself.