Inspector General: SBA’s Certify.SBA.gov Platform “Has Not Accomplished Its Objectives”

The SBA’s “Certify” website, certify.SBA.gov, has fallen far short of meeting its objectives, according to an eye-opening report from the SBA’s Office of Inspector General.

The OIG concludes that, despite an investment of $30 million, Certify “does not have many of the essential search, analytical, and reporting tools it was supposed to have.” Additionally, Certify’s lack of functionality has forced SBA employees to use time-consuming workarounds, causing delays in screening and approving applications, among other things.

SBA began development of the Certify platform in 2015. As the OIG writes, Certify “was intended to improve SBA’s contracting programs by streamlining the certification process and creating a single portal where business owners and SBA analysts could benefit from more security, ease of use, efficiency, and flexibility.”

Through Certify, applicants and participants in various SBA contracting programs, like the 8(a) Program, HUBZone Program, WOSB Program and All-Small Mentor-Protege Program, were supposed to have a one-stop shop for submitting documents and information. The SBA, in turn, would be able to access all necessary information electronically, in a single place. This, the SBA believed, would increase processing times and allow the SBA to be more responsive to the small business community.

It hasn’t worked as intended. In fact, the OIG says, Certify has caused delays:

We found that although Certify offers some functionality, according to Certify’s project managers, it does not offer many of the key essential search, analytical, and reporting tools it was developed to provide. To compensate for Certify’s shortcomings, program analysts must use labor intensive methods external to the Certify application, which decreases analyst productivity.

Certify has delayed rather than improved the time it takes for program analysts to screen and approve applications, monitor progress, and terminate agreements for noncompliant 8(a) firms. The need for extra manual work outside the system has undercut Certify’s usefulness for both SBA contracting program administrators and program applicants and participants.

What kind of delays? Well, while Certify wasn’t the only culprit, the OIG found that “the average number of days to approve 8(a) participant applications increased from 91 days in FY 2017,” before Certify was introduced, “to 138 days in FY 2019,” after Certify’s introduction–an increase of more than 50 percent.

The SBA OIG also found many other major problems and shortfalls with Certify, such as:

  • Certify “is missing several analytical tools” to determine whether applicants are eligible for SBA contracting programs.
  • Certify “lacks reporting capabilities needed for program analysts to track the detailed status of participant reviews and adverse actions.”
  • Although it was supposed to do so, Certify does not “help program analysts monitor the technical assistance provided to [8(a)] program participants and track their progress towards realizing business development goals.”
  • Certify does not, as intended, reliably notify 8(a) firms of upcoming annual reviews.
  • As of August 2019, “only 20 percent of the All Small Mentor-Protégé Program’s certification process had been implemented in Certify [and] the application was missing basic functionality, including notifications, application routing, communication with applicants, and reporting.”
  • Although HUBZone applications were supposed to be added to Certify soon after it was introduced, “to date, SBA has not implemented a HUBZone application in Certify,” instead relying on a legacy application system that “no longer met the business requirements of the HUBZone Program as far back as 2010.”
  • Despite being touted as a replacement for the SBA’s outdated Dynamic Small Business Search system, this function has yet to be added to Certify.

Given this laundry list of significant problems, the SBA apparently has thrown in the towel on Certify. The OIG says:

In August 2019, the [SBA] approved plans for all new development to be migrated to Microsoft Dynamics 365-based platform as part of SBA’s new enterprise customer-relationship-management system initiative. In September 2019, SBA awarded a $3.5 million contract to develop new certification management applications on the Dynamics 365 platform an a replacement for the Dynamic Small Business Search.

When the SBA announced Certify, it seemed like a great idea. And conceptually, it was. But as Steve Jobs once said, “ideas are worth nothing unless executed.” Let’s hope that the second time around, the SBA gets it right.

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