SBA's Open Government Plan to Increase 7(a) Lender Participation
If all goes as planned, there will be 3,000 more active lenders in the SBA's 7(a) loan program by September 2011.
The agency has put together its Open Government Plan, a report that details a number of approaches to increase transparency, participation and collaboration. Specifically, the SBA has several efforts underway to make data and other information about its programs and activities available to customers and stakeholders as well as to improve collaboration with its partners and implement tools and strategies to increase participation with input from the public.
Under the plan, one of four performance goals is to expand access to capital with the aim of increasing the number of active SBA lending partners for the 7(a) loan program to 3,000 by Sept. 30, 2011, which would be a 15% increase over fiscal years 2008 and 2009's average, the agency said. The SBA's Office of Capital Access, which manages lending programs through product development, oversight and processing, will lead this initiative. Through increased outreach from staff in district offices to credit unions and other lenders, the agency hopes that small business owners will have more access points to capital.
"Through the strategic focus areas and objectives that have been set, SBA is working to address the most critical needs of the small business community and serve as the voice of small business," the SBA said. "The agency realizes that it cannot construct effective plans to meet the needs of its customers without the benefit of input from those we support."
Another performance goal will be to process 85% of home disaster loan applications within 14 days and 85% of business disaster loan applications within 18 days. The SBA's Office of Disaster Assistance, working with its field operations' network of providers and partners will help when disaster strikes a particular region or district. The agency is in the middle of helping small businesses cope with the deepwater BP oil spill. As of May 28, 27 economic injury disaster loans totaling more than $1 million have been approved for firms in the Gulf Coast region. The SBA said it has also granted deferment on 66 existing disaster loans to small businesses and 61 of them to homeowners.
The SBA said it also wants to increase small business participation in federal government contracting to meet the statutory goals and reduce participation by ineligible firms. Congress has mandated that small businesses should receive at least 23% of federal government prime contracts and has set separate goals for other subsets of the small business community. The SBA's Office of Government Contracting and Business Development will play the lead coordinating role in helping federal agencies reach their specific goals and the Office of Field Operations will also help promote contracting opportunities to small business owners through marketing and outreach efforts.
The fourth performance goal under the SBA's open government plan is to improve its Small Business Innovation Research program through deploying an improved data collection and reporting system and continue implementing performance metrics, implementing more systematic monitoring for fraud waste and abuse, and improving commercialization from existing program awards.
One major transition currently underway is an overhaul of the SBA's web site. Dubbed Flagship Initiative, the redesigned site is set to incorporate tools and features that more effectively deliver information and services to small business. A new feature, SBA Direct, will allow users to customize their online experience and quickly access content that is relevant to them. When users provide business, geographic and demographic information, SBA Direct will also display content and services directly related to their individual needs.
The new site will also house community discussion forums and a virtual answer desk that integrates the SBA's customer service call center with an online chat function for 24/7 interactive online assistance. In keeping with one of its missions to be more transparent, an advanced search function, an ad hoc reporting tool, and a dashboard feature that provides direct access to data sets, reports, and content on agency programs and operations are in the works. A contracting opportunities locator and geospatial mapping tool tied to agency resource partners and lenders are also scheduled to be implemented.