The General Accounting Office, over the strong objections of the Small Business Administration, has recommended terminating a major new lending procedure designed to cut through red-tape and speed the award of government-guaranteed small business loans.
In an audit delivered to SBA Administrator James C. Saunders this week, the GAO contends that the Certified Lenders Program (CLP) did not result in faster loan approvals for businessmen or personnel savings for SBA primarily because lending institutions made more mistakes filling out applications and making credit checks than did federal workers.
Established in February, 1979, the CLP was set up to give the lending institutions more control over SBA guaranteed loans by giving more timely credit deisions to borrowers.
In addition to "missing information . . . in many instances CLP lenders submit inaccurate, improper or incomplete credit analyses," the audit states. "Consequently, SBA frequently performs a more intensive review or analysis than was envisioned under the CLP concept."
The report also recommends that SBA consider holding off on an expansion of a related pilot Preferred Lenders Program that requires CLP institutions to back 25 percent, instead of the usual 10 percent, of an SBA loan guarantee in exchange for full control over the loan.
About 500 of the nation's 11,000 banks and lending institutions are now involved in direct or guaranteed SBA loan programs as designated CLP participants--generally earning that distinction because of good staff work and a high volume of SBA lending activity.
"Around the country, the implementation has been spotty," admitted Edwin T. Holloway, associate SBA administrator for finance and investment. "But there are two choices: to say let's scrap this program because it's no good or to say we're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. That's our approach: to try to upgrade training for SBA employes and to make this program work."
Locally, Allied Lending Corp. of Washington and Enterprise Bank of Falls Church are the biggest CLP lenders, responsible for about $1 million in loans so far this year. Other area CLP participants are People's Security Bank of Maryland and the National Bank of Washington.
"They all send over darn good packages," said Bernard Layne, SBA's Washington district director. "We have had no problems here."
Allied Senior Vice President Kenneth A. Swain said the CLP brought into play a "humanizing factor" between the agency and the loan recipient by making the lending institution more responsive.
"My company has been treated vary fairly and professionally," Swain said. "They've tried to institute the program sincerely and like any other large organization it has growing pains that need to be worked out."