None of the 526 companies accused last September of being ineligible for the Small Business Administration's 8(a) minority aid program have been expelled from that program.
Last fall 300 of those firms were sent "cure letters" telling them "they have 30 days to resolve their problems and deficiencies or face show-cause orders on why they should not be formally terminated from the program," according to an SBA circular on the program.
But since then, no show-cause orders have been issued, and the firms continue to be eligible for federal funds, contracts and benefits through the SBA 8(a) minority and disadvantaged-firm aid program.
"It's a very, very seroius job to sit here and decide the fate of a small business," said Richard M. Philbin, director of the office of Program Surveillance and Assistance at the SBA.
"It's a heavy responsibility. We have to protect the integrity of the program. . . but treat these 8(a) firms fairly."
Philbin said he didn't think processing complaints against the accused firms "is taking so long or too long." He also denied that the firms were being kept in the program to keep the agency's and the Carter's administration's minority aid figures high.
Last September the SBA's inspector general published a report accusing the agency of pumping millions of dollars worth of contracts into firms that either had no chance of succeeding or whose owners already were earning up to $1 million a year. One-third of the firms that received federal aid under the program meant for minorities and the disadvantaged. wasn't eligible, the insepector general's report said.
The highest concentration of abuses was in the area that includes the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia. West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
As of Feb. 15 -- the cutoff for the agency's most up-to-date figures -- 248 firms still were working out their problems with the SBA's central office and field offices around the country. The agency has made a final decision to retain 58 of the firms in the program, and 78 are before the central office's termination committee.
Eight firms have dropped out of the program, and none have yet completed it. These figures differ, however, from those supplied to The Washington Post last December by the SBA when an agency spokeswoman said that 146 firms have been kept in the program and several had completed it. The spokeswoman said this week that she didn't know how the decrepancy arose.
The SBA also said that as of Feb. 15, it had recommended that aid cease to 23 firms because they no longer need the government's services and it has made an initial recommendation to retain 111 more.
According to the Feb. 15 figures, 109 of the 74 firms cited in the area still are negotiating with the SBA to solve some of their problems, and no final action has been taken on them. One firm has dropped out of the program, 19 have been referred to the termination committee and 13 will be retained. None has graduated from the program, that is, none is seen as able to survive without government aid.
The SBA has recommended retaining 25 other regional firms and graduating 7, but no final action has been taken on them.
Philbin said that he hopes final decesions will be made on all the cases by the end of May. Gathering evidence on the firms is a painstaking procedure, he added. In some instances SBA field personnel don't know what documents they need and haven't been trained to gather the information, Philbin said.
No field personnel were added to help investigate the firms, he added.
Meanwhile, all the firms still are eligible for SBA aid.
If deficiencies warrant dropping from the program any firms now before the termination committee, their cases must be decided by an administrative law judge, Philbin said, adding that he has no idea how long that would take.