Opportunities Exist to Improve Programs' Collaboration, Data-Tracking, and Performance Management

August 23, 2012

What GAO Found

Federal efforts to support entrepreneurs are fragmented--including among 52 programs at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Small Business Administration (SBA). All overlap with at least one other program in terms of the type of assistance they are authorized to offer, such as financial (grants and loans) and technical (training and counseling), and the type of entrepreneur they are authorized to serve. Some entrepreneurs struggle to navigate the fragmented programs that provide technical assistance. For example, some entrepreneurs and technical assistance providers GAO spoke with said the system can be confusing and that some entrepreneurs do not know where to go for assistance. Collaboration could reduce some negative effects of overlap and fragmentation, but field staff GAO spoke with did not consistently collaborate to provide training and counseling services to entrepreneurs. The agencies have taken initial steps to improve how they collaborate by entering into formal agreements, but they have not pursued a number of other good collaborative practices GAO has previously identified. For example, USDA and SBA entered into a formal agreement in 2010 to coordinate their efforts to support businesses in rural areas; however, the agencies' programs that can support start-up businesses--such as USDA's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program and SBA's Small Business Development Centers--have yet to determine roles and responsibilities, find ways to leverage each other's resources, or establish compatible policies and procedures. Without enhanced collaboration and coordination agencies may not be able to make the best use of limited federal resources in the most effective and efficient manner.

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