Senator Calls On Agencies to Streamline Programs for Entrepreneurs

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent letters to the Commerce and SBA chiefs. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent letters to the Commerce and SBA chiefs. Charlie Riedel/AP

One lawmaker wants agencies to reexamine their efforts to support entrepreneurs after a watchdog group determined more could be done to streamline many often inefficient and redundant programs to assist small businesses.

On Friday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent letters to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Small Business Administration leader Linda McMahon requesting analyses of their agency’s entrepreneur assistance initiatives and information on how they measure the effectiveness of the programs.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2012 that each of the 52 entrepreneur support programs at Commerce, SBA and other agencies overlapped with at least one other program in the type of assistance they offer or the type of entrepreneur they serve. The fragmented system was often difficult for business owners to navigate, and GAO advised agencies to collaborate to streamline the process and also create a system to monitor the performance of individual programs.

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Five years later, GAO found neither Commerce nor SBA have fully complied with the recommendations.

“We can’t have dozens of potentially ineffective programs all working on the same thing,” McCaskill said in a statement. “Encouraging people to start businesses is a good goal, but if we’re spending Missourians’ hard-earned tax dollars on it, we’ve got to make sure money isn’t being wasted.”

McCaskill asked agencies to provide details on how specific programs differ from those at other agencies, how programs are measured for effectiveness, and what steps have been taken to comply with GAO recommendations. She also requested status updates on specific programs scrutinized by GAO. Agencies have until Dec. 8 to respond.

Of the 135 GAO recommendations open at Commerce and 54 open at SBA in 2017, the watchdog designated reforms to entrepreneur assistance programs as a top priority. Duplicative and convoluted programs not only make it harder for entrepreneurs to get the resources they need, but also waste already limited government funds.

McCaskill’s request comes as lawmakers called for agencies to better coordinate and share data among themselves. In September, the congressional Commission on Evidence-Based Policy published a 130-page report highlighting the need for shared government data to inform policy decisions and improve the performance of federal programs.

“The country’s laws and practices are not currently optimized to support the use of data for evidence building, nor in a manner that best protects privacy,” the report said. The commission called for legislation to enable the creation of the new data service that would “facilitate access to data for evidence building while ensuring privacy and transparency in how those data are used.”

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