Small Business Administration:
Information on the Women's Business Center Program
RCED-99-278R, Sep 2, 1999
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Small Business Administration's (SBA) Women's Business Center Program, focusing on: (1) a description of the women's business centers, including their funding status, their experiences in raising matching funds, the types of services offered in a women's business center's first and last year of grant funding, and the differences between parent and satellite centers; (2) the extent to which SBA's award criteria predict long-term success or failure of women's business centers; and (3) the Office of Women's Business Ownership's compliance with legislative reporting requirements and the inherent difficulties with obtaining the required data from the women's business centers.
GAO noted that: (1) the women's business centers that have received SBA grants differ in their statuses and circumstances; (2) over two-thirds of the centers that receive grant funds or that received funding from SBA in the past continue to operate as women's business centers; (3) most of these centers reported in a survey GAO conducted that they were able to raise the required level of matching funds; (4) of those centers whose grants had expired, most continued to offer the same types of services after SBA funding ended as they had in the first and last year of their grant funding; (5) satellite centers reported providing the same types of services to their clients as those provided by parent centers; (6) satellite status offered advantages and disadvantages, with some parent centers providing their satellites with office space and furniture, while other parent centers used their satellites only to generate income for the parents' benefit; (7) in GAO's review of SBA's program records, GAO did not find a link between a center's scoring well on the criteria for awarding funds and the center's continued operation; (8) GAO's analysis revealed that of the top-scoring centers in a given year, about as many are open as are closed; (9) GAO found that after a SBA grant term expired, the primary reason a center closed was the inability to raise funds; (10) in terms of the characteristics of successful centers, GAO did not find major differences between centers that continue to operate and those that have closed; (11) women's business centers find it easier to meet some mandated reporting requirements than others; (12) additionally, some centers expressed dissatisfaction with SBA's computerized data tracking system, saying that it is prone to errors; (13) the Office of Women's Business Ownership recognizes the problems with the tracking system and is in the process of establishing a new one; and (14) the women's business centers also made suggestions that they said would improve the program, such as extending the grant period beyond 5 years and reducing the amount of matching funds they are required to raise.