The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report on Oct. 11 that outlined communication issues to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program that enabled small theatrical businesses to gain financial assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GAO estimated that 85 percent of applicants of the grant program – administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) – had a difficult time accessing customer service that would help with grant applications.

“Customer service was hard to access and did not provide applicant-specific assistance, most survey respondents reported – a more comprehensive communications strategy would better position SBA for future emergency assistance programs, particularly those that may differ from its existing programs,” stated the report.

The report also found that the application process during the pandemic was rife with fraudulent risks to the application process.

“SBA designed controls to check applicant information against third- party databases. SBA periodically assessed risks to the program, including fraud risks. The most recent assessment described eight fraud risks, including identity theft,” stated the report.

The report concluded by outlining two recommendations by which the SBA can enhance its customer service operations and risks of fraud in the grant program:

  • The SBA needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for communicating with applicants of future emergency assistance programs; and
  • The SBA needs to ensure that post-award monitoring procedures for its Shuttered Venue program specifically address risks the agency identified.

SBA partially agreed with the recommendations, while GAO maintained the two recommendations are valid.

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.