loans

 

loans

Managing Recovery: A View from Inside

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 - 13:15
Author(s): 
Read the report.

Jennifer Main interview

Friday, October 30th, 2009 - 19:00
Phrase: 
Jennifer Main is the Chief Financial Officer, Office of Financial Stability U.S. Department of the Treasury
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/31/2009
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Jennifer Main(Jenni) is the Chief Financial Officer, Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Department of the Treasury.
Prior to that she was named Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in October 2005, after serving as the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for three years. Prior to joining SBA, she was a Senior Manager with KPMG Consulting's banking practice where she worked with private and public sector financial institutions. She is also a successful entrepreneur, having started a small business in 1998 that provided financial analysis to lenders nationwide. The company was sold to a venture capital firm in 2000.
Magazine profile: 

Steven Preston interview

Friday, April 25th, 2008 - 19:00
Phrase: 
Steven Preston
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/26/2008
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Steven Preston
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast April 26, 2008

Washington, D.C.

Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. And now The Business of Government Hour.

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Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

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Small business ownership can be the gateway to opportunities for all Americans. In fact, in just over four years, two-thirds of the eight million new American jobs were created by small businesses. These entrepreneurs foster an economy driven by innovation and their passion, along with the organizations dedicated to serving them, clearly reflect the American spirit of ingenuity and opportunity.

With us this morning to discuss his department's effort in support of American small business is our special guest, Steven Preston, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Preston: Good morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Paul Kayatta, partner in IBM's Public Sector General Government Practice. Good morning, Paul.

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Mr. Kayatta: Good morning, Al. Hello, Steve.

Mr. Morales: Steve, let's start by taking a moment to provide our listeners with an overview of the Small Business Administration, or sometimes referred to as the SBA. Can you tell us a bit about the history and the evolution and its current mission today?

Mr. Preston: Sure. And I think, Al, you did a great job of sort of giving us a sense of the importance of small business in our country. Roughly, they're half of our economy. They're most of our job creation and a lot of the innovation that drives our economy. And because of that, the SBA was created in 1953 as an independent agency to support small businesses in any number of ways.

Now, what that means today is that we provide guarantees for private loans to small businesses. That helps our banks and other lenders reach a little bit harder to reach small businesses who need capital to grow. It means that we train and counsel small businesses around our country. Every year, we have programs that touch about a million entrepreneurs a year to help prepare them for ownership or help them through issues they face as a small-business owner. We also help small businesses if they want to sell their goods or services to the federal government. We help prepare them for that process and learn how to bid on contracts.

And then the other thing we do, which is a little different than our primary small business mission, is we are America's government bank for disaster victims -- not only small businesses, but homeowners. So, for example, today we have over $6 billion with homeowners and business owners in the Gulf of Mexico, helping them rebuild their lives after the 2005 hurricanes.

Mr. Morales: That's great. That's a broader mission than I had thought. So can you provide us then a sense of scale and tell us a little bit more about how the SBA's organized, perhaps the size of its budget, number of full-time employees, and your geographical footprint across the country?

Mr. Preston: Sure. Right now, there are effectively two parts to the agency: the disaster side and the non-disaster side. The non-disaster side has slightly over 2,000 employees. Now, the disaster side, the size of the employee base depends on what we're dealing with. So, for example, today we've got about 1,200 employees, but after Hurricane Katrina, we had over 4,000.

In addition to that, in our training and counseling operations, we fund third parties that provide those services for us. They have about 13,000 counselors around the country. And then we work with about 4,000 banks and non-bank lenders. So we have a large base of employees, but we also have a large network that is not employed by us, but works with us to deliver that mission.

Our budget, it takes somewhat over $800 million to run the agency in any given year, but many of our programs are actually self-funding. I think the other thing to note is when you look at all of our guaranteed lending programs and other programs we have to get capital to small business, there is about $85 billion worth of capital in people's hands around our country that is supported by the SBA. So we're a very significant part of getting capital to small-business owners.

Mr. Kayatta: Now that you've provided us with a great sense of the organization, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your role as the administrator of SBA. Could you describe for us your specific roles and duties?

Mr. Preston: Yeah, well, you know, as head of the federal agency, my duties are fairly broad. But I look at them really probably in a couple of baskets. First of all, I think I need to be the point of accountability for high-quality service delivery by our agency. At the end of the day, we're a service organization that helps Americans. And I feel like I need to make sure that every penny that's spent on the agency is a penny well spent and that we are a high-quality organization delivering that service. We've had a lot of challenges along the way, but I think we've made a lot of progress.

As such, I need to be an important advocate for our employees, and the work that they do. And I also think I need to be a very visible advocate for small businesses in our country. We are consistently facing policy issues, like health care, like tax policy, like export policy, that are very relevant to the small businesses in our country. So as head of the agency, it's important for me to understand what's taking place on the legislative agenda and the regulatory agenda, and ensure that we're doing everything we can to make sure the voice of small business is heard.

Mr. Kayatta: So you've gone over several of the challenges that you're addressing. Could you tell us what you think your top three challenges are, and how are you addressing them?

Mr. Preston: Well, you know, when I came into the position, I came in about 11 months after Hurricane Katrina. And we provide loans to disaster victims, and those are low-interest loans on very favorable terms, and we had just a tremendous backlog at that point. So job number one for me when I came into the agency was to ensure that we got those funds into the hands of disaster victims and then that we ensure that we could reform the agency in a way that would ensure that we could support disaster victims in the future. As people say, hope for the best, but plan for the worst. So we have dramatically changed the process of making a disaster loan at the agency, which has required extensive reengineering of processes, bringing more technology to the table, coordinating with federal and state and local groups much more effectively.

And the other thing we did is we're trying to move our disaster operation -- we actually already have -- from feeling like a large bureaucracy to a friendly organization. So everybody who applies for a disaster loan right now is going to get a case manager, somebody they can talk to about how to submit their loan, the person can help them through the process. We want to be a helpful, responsive body. So that was the big challenge and I'm thrilled with the progress we've made there.

I'd say, secondly, we face similar operational challenges that have made it difficult for us, I think, to deliver the service that we do with the type of quality that we need to. And so we've applied many of the same learnings to other areas in the agency to become a much more customer-friendly organization in our lending programs, in our procurement programs, and in all sorts of other things.

And I'd say the other thing is, you know, when I came into the agency I think we had some real employee morale issues. The government surveys on employee satisfaction indicated that the SBA had a lot of challenges in that area. So I've been very focused on ensuring that our employees are trained to do their jobs effectively, that they have the tools to do their jobs effectively, and that they have a work environment that really makes them look forward to coming to work every day. And we've made a lot of progress on that front as well. A couple months ago, we got results from an employee survey that was roughly a year after we brought the new team in, and we saw very dramatic improvements. So we're thrilled with the progress we're making there as well.

Mr. Morales: Steve, I understand that prior to coming to SBA, you were an executive in the private sector. Could you describe your career path for our listeners and perhaps let us know how you got started in government?

Mr. Preston: Yeah, it's probably more of a zigzag than a straight line. You know, I came out of business school with a finance MBA and went to work in investment banking. I worked on Wall Street for a number of years, from sort of the mid-'80s to the early '90s. It was very exciting. I learned a tremendous amount. It was, I think, just a great place for a young person to be who wanted to learn about financial services and the markets and dealing with corporate issues. But I really decided I wanted to be part of building something in a different way. I always felt that my clients were having more fun than I was by being part of building an organization, so I became the treasurer of one of our clients. And it was a very large company with a lot of very complex financial challenges. And then I ultimately moved from there to become the chief financial officer of a Fortune 500 company, and then ultimately an operational leader there.

So my pathway has sort of gone from being a provider of financial services to companies to working as the financial and strategy person within the company on to roles where I actually was focused on improving the operations of the company to help it provide better service, to help it do that more efficiently, and to improve the growth of the company. When the opportunity to come to the SBA, which, as I mentioned earlier, is a large service organization that has had some operational challenges, when that opportunity came up, it made a lot of sense to me to take it.

The mission, also, made it, I think, particularly compelling. Like a lot of Americans, after Hurricane Katrina, you know, I watched the footage from my living room and, you know, I prayed for those people and I, you know, sent money and just wished I could do more to help. And sure enough, the opportunity came up to really pour what I had built over almost a 25-year career in financial and operational roles into an agency that directly impacted those people's lives. So I just felt like if I was looking for a sense of mission I couldn't have gotten a better one.

Mr. Morales: So, Steve, as you reflect back on these experiences, how have they prepared you for your current leadership role as administrator and perhaps shaped your management approach and leadership style? And if I may, what management lessons have you learned and brought to the SBA culture from these private sector experiences?

Mr. Preston: Okay, great. Well, I think I can probably wrap all of those questions up in a handful of thoughts. First of all, if you're leading an organization and you want it to go somewhere, you have to really paint a compelling vision of where you're going to take that organization. And that compelling vision is something that has to live and breathe within the organization. And so, when I very first came into the role, I spent a lot of time understanding what we needed to do as an organization, who we needed to serve, and how we needed to serve them, and working closely with the employee base, listening to them, and the customer base, listening to them, in bringing that forward.

Then I think once you paint that compelling vision for people, you need to make sure that everything you do in the organization lines up behind it: launching major initiatives to support that vision, tracking the progress, fervently supporting the progress in those initiatives; every month or periodically, whatever, looking at the progress and making sure that things don't get off track; looking at compensation programs and reward programs that support that; and then continually being up front in front of the organization reinforcing where you're heading and why you're heading there.

The other thing I've learned over my career that I've definitely employed at the SBA is if you're going to have an effective service organization, you need to have motivated employees that care about what they're doing and you need to provide those employees with the training to do their jobs and the tools to do their jobs. Because if they're motivated employees and they care about what they're doing, the last thing you want to do is put them in an environment where there's poor morale, where they're not trained to do their jobs, or they don't have equipment or whatever. So you really need to focus on the employee base and their ability to serve the mission as sort of square one in being an effective service organization.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. What about SBA's reform agenda? We will ask Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. Also joining us in our conversation, from IBM, is Paul Kayatta.

Steve, from my conversations with government executives, anytime you drive broad organizational change you need this compelling vision that you talked about earlier and you need to drive it through your teams. Now, applying that back to SBA, can you give us a brief overview of SBA's actual strategic plan and can you describe the vision that underlines and unifies your strategic goals?

Mr. Preston: Yeah. I think there are a handful of things that we're very focused on right now. First of all, we've really worked very hard, as I mentioned a little earlier, to ensure that we're prepared to handle whatever disaster might affect our country and, in doing so, get capital to people to help them rebuild their lives. It's not very difficult, frankly, to get people within the agency to see that as a heartfelt mission that they care about deeply. And the people in our disaster operation really want to serve well. And so I think an important thing to do there has been to help them understand how what they do in their jobs helps us deliver that mission effectively.

The other part of the mission, which I often refer to as our "reform agenda," is to look at all of our programs and services and make them easier to use, more customer-friendly, more compassionate in how they're delivered, and much more efficient, frankly, because there's a tremendous opportunity for us to improve the efficiency of the organization. And what I tell people often about that portion of the vision is, look, we can have the greatest product or service in the world -- whether it's guaranteeing loans to help people get capital, whether it's a program that helps them with procurement -- but if they're extremely difficult to use, if there is a ton of paperwork to fill out, if it takes us very long to make decisions or get back to people, if we're overly bureaucratic, people will not use the program. It might be a great service, but if it's too tough to use, they won't come to us and they won't seek our help.

I was talking to somebody about this recently and I said, gee, you know, when you look at opening a bank account do you look at the interest rate or do you look at the ease of use? You know, is there a branch nearby you? Do you like the electronic banking? Is that easy to use? Can you get information on your account? If they forgot to send you your statements every month and you had to drive six miles, getting another, you know, half a percent on your savings account may not make a big difference. So it's very important for us to understand that ease of use, simplicity, and responsiveness is a big part of quality service in helping America's small businesses because these people have big jobs that consume a tremendous amount of their time. They need us to respect that as we're delivering the service.

Mr. Morales: Now, Steven, I have to admit here that I cheated a little bit by doing some research on your plan and it seems like it's guided by four core pillars. Could you elaborate on these pillars along with your vision that complement the reform agenda that you described? And in so doing, could you give us a brief introduction to the reform agenda for SBA?

Mr. Preston: Yeah. What I found not long after I came to the SBA is it was important for us, in setting the vision and in establishing initiatives to fulfill that vision, it was important for us to agree on what we needed to talk about. What are sort of the guideposts for making decisions? And we came up really with four key things.

First of all, we decided our agenda had to be outcomes-driven. It couldn't be about how many loans we processed or, you know, how much paperwork we shoved. It had to be about the value we created to people. And so what are the outcomes we're driving? Are we helping people get back into their homes? Are we helping small businesses get capital ultimately? So not let's just talk about the process, let's talk about the value we're creating, so outcomes-driven.

 

Number two, everything we needed to do had to be customer-focused. What I talk to people about is, when we look at a new opportunity, I say we have to start with the customer and work back from the customer because that's the person we're serving. And our customer is a taxpayer, whether it be a small business or a disaster victim.

The third thing we talked about is being employee-enabled. We need to enable our employees to deliver that service because, if we don't, we won't be able to do it effectively.

And the fourth thing, we couldn't figure a pithy or short term to come up with, but it gets to the notion of having an agency that's transparent around what we're doing. We're a government agency. We've got to be open and transparent about how well we're doing. If we're not doing well, we have to be honest about it. We have to be accountable and we have to be efficient. It all gets to the concept of stewardship and openness in management. So outcomes-driven, customer-focused, employee-enabled, and then the last one we kind of call transparent, accountable, and efficient.

Now, as we look at applying that to sort of the reform agenda, we can use those guiding principles and we can look at each one of these programs to say do we know what outcome we're driving and are we set up with our initiatives to improve that outcome? Does that outcome really affect the customer the way we want it to? Do we have programs in place to support our employees to deliver that service with a high quality or are we disabled at that level? And finally, are we really accountable in how we're delivering the service? Are we measuring it right? Are we driving toward the right goals? And are we honest about how well we're performing?

So that's kind of how the four pillars apply to the reform agenda.

Mr. Morales: That's great. Now, you know, earlier in the first segment, we talked a little bit about the growth of small businesses over the past several years. What's interesting is, over the last three decades, the number of employees at large Fortune 500 companies has actually been declining. Could you elaborate a bit on your efforts to improve the economic environment for these small businesses?

Mr. Preston: Certainly. There are a number of things that we focus on in that regard. Right now, obviously, we are seeing somewhat of a challenging time in our economy, and one of the things that we are concerned about is the ability of small businesses to get capital. So we are working very hard to meet with hundreds of banks around the country to make sure that they understand our programs fully, that they're using them in a way that will help them get capital to small businesses, and that if they have any problems in working with us that may discourage them to use our services, that we're taking care of those issues, that we're being a good partner with them. So it's very much about outreach and improving our service quality to the banks so that they, in turn, will adopt our programs and get capital to small businesses.

Now, the other thing that's very important during this period of time is often small businesses, they're facing something that they haven't faced before: potentially a decline in sales or, in this case, in the current environment, higher energy costs, or challenges like that. Our network of counselors can sit down with those small businesses and actually help them think through how to address those issues. Should they be thinking about an adjustment to their prices? Are there strategies that they can have to bring down their energy costs? We're also about to launch a program that will help small businesses learn how to become more energy efficient because it is an increasing cost for them.

Mr. Kayatta: In rural areas, small businesses account for two-thirds of all jobs and in inner cities, small businesses provide 80 percent of all the employment. So entrepreneurship can be a very valuable vehicle in these communities. Could you elaborate on SBA's efforts to develop new products and to serve these underserved markets?

Mr. Preston: Yeah. This is a very, very important focus for us because in areas of our country where we see higher poverty and higher unemployment, we want to make absolutely sure we're doing everything we can to support entrepreneurship. And the reason for that is very, very simple. If new businesses can get a foothold, if small businesses that are existing there have the resources and the support to grow, they will create jobs, they'll bring investment, they'll improve the physical face of neighborhoods and in a way that is sustainable and lasting and, in many cases, growing. So we are working very hard to drive our services to areas of our country that need it the most so they can get lasting change.

Now, how are we doing that? First of all, we're providing goals for all of our offices around the country to increase our presence in those areas, and those goals have shown real fruit.

Secondly, we are rolling out products that are specifically designed to help people in those areas. For example, many small community banks are reluctant to use our services, our guaranteed lending services, because they're concerned about dealing with the government bureaucracy, and it can be challenging for them if they don't have a lot of staff. So we're rolling out an entirely new program for them that has a simplified application; they can do it online. We give them a customer support desk if they have any questions. And we promise them that we'll turn around their loans in a few days. We want to make it easy and supportive for them, and we'll be signing up small banks that reach many rural areas as a result.

And another thing that I would mention is a very exciting initiative we are launching right now called the "Emerging 200." We've chosen 11 cities in the country for a pilot called the "SBA Emerging 200." These are cities that have experienced job loss in the inner city. We are going to those areas and we're bringing in 15 to 25 small businesses that have a profile of a growth company. It looks like they've got an idea that could really ramp, but it looks like they also need a lot of help. So we're putting them through an intensive program for six to eight months. They'll get classroom training. They'll get one-on-one counseling if they want it. We'll give them business connections in the community. We'll provide them with introductions and support with lenders and investors. But we want to make sure that these companies in our inner cities that have potential to grow dramatically have every bit of support from us to become successful. And if they're successful, if you have 20 companies, for example, in Baltimore, which is one of the cities, or in Memphis, which is one of the cities, and they begin creating new jobs, that abets more economic activity. Hopefully, next year, we'll have another class of people coming in. And it can begin to change the face of neighborhoods and communities around our country. So we're very, very excited about the launch of the Emerging 200.

Mr. Kayatta: As you mentioned earlier, the SBA manages a loan portfolio in the range of $85 billion. To that end, OMB's Improved Credit Management Initiative requires agencies to strengthen the way that they award and service loans, manage portfolios, and collect debts. Would you tell us about the department's management and strategy for improving its credit management capability?

Mr. Preston: Certainly. This is a very important initiative and I'm thrilled that OMB has focused so heavily on this because the federal government does have a lot of financial resources out there and it's critical that we're managing those very tightly. Really what it requires is a focus to make sure that you have the right policies in place to manage those portfolios and that you are being very diligent about following those policies. And so in our case it's required us to really look at the whole pathway, the life of a loan, to make sure of how we're servicing loans, how we're managing the portfolios, how we're collecting the debt, that those things are all managed tightly, that we're tracking them, and that they're done in compliance with the OMB directives.

Now, over time what we're doing in addition to that is we're rolling out new systems to be able to support us so that we can do it much more efficiently and in a way that allows us to kind of get all of our information and all of our management processes in one place.

Mr. Morales: Steve, you've been talking quite a bit about your work in the area of disaster recovery. What lessons has your organization learned in the aftermath of the Gulf experiences? But more importantly, what are some of the major improvements to SBA's disaster operations that you've made that ensure the agency is stronger in the face of any future national emergencies?

Mr. Preston: Well, we've learned a number of things and I think these are the areas where we really have focused on improving. First of all, on a very base level, I think it's important to realize that when somebody has gone through a disaster, in many cases they're absolutely shell-shocked. It is a very, very difficult situation. I've been in many of our disaster recovery centers after a tornado or a flood. Sometimes people come in, they look entirely dazed because they're just in shock. We need to be a compassionate, helpful face and voice to them when they come into our process because they need help in getting through the process of doing a disaster loan when they've lost so much.

Some people will say to me, how can it be efficient to give people that kind of support? Isn't it expensive? And what I typically say is, no. A, it's the right thing to do but, B, it is efficient because if you invest 15 or 20 minutes with an individual, taking him through the process, helping them understand what they have to do, it saves all of us a tremendous amount of time in getting the documents correct. Before we were frequently shipping documents back and forth because they're weren't filled out right or we didn't have enough information. So helping people at the front end the compassionate way can also be more efficient. That's number one.

Number two, I think we have to have a system in place that allows us to ramp our capacity very quickly in a major disaster. That means that we have to have a way to hire people very quickly. It means that we have to have a way to ensure that we have systems in place to handle high volume. And it means that we need to have facilities to put those people in those systems. So we have a very detailed surge strategy in place. And, in fact, we'll be testing it in a simulation to test all of our disaster capacity in various events. And we have thousands of reservists around the country right now that are ready to be called up, and that's very important.

And the third thing I would highlight is we're not alone when something like this happens. There are many people out there to support us and there are also people that we have to coordinate with so that we can both do our jobs more effectively. So we've dramatically improved our coordination with other federal agencies. We have put in place protocols to improve our coordination with local groups. And we've also, believe it or not, we have a field network around the country that delivers non-SBA disaster services. It delivers lending and all the other services which is separate from disaster. We haven't always coordinated between those two, but we have a wealth of resources with almost a thousand people in the field that know their local chambers, know the local banks, and know the local media outlets. So we have protocols in place now to coordinate with our other SBA resources on the ground to leverage their resources. And that is very important because in a situation like this, everybody needs to lock arms and work together closely if they're going to effectively deliver the services to the disaster victims.

Mr. Morales: That's great. That sounds like you're taking a very proactive position against any future occurrences. Steve, another critical area is our country's veterans. Could you tell us more about your efforts to ensure that veterans receive fair access to federal contracts and that veterans get the capital and technical assistance they need to be successful as small-business owners? What are some things that you do in this area?

Mr. Preston: Well, this is a very important area to us and it's an area that we've invested a lot of focus. Because not only do we all feel a heartfelt commitment to the people that have served us in the military, it's also important to remember that these people, men and women who've served us so well, have learned critical skills that make them great entrepreneurs. They've learned disciplines, they've learned hard skills. In many cases, they've learned how to sacrifice to build something. Those are all great things to pour into a small business and veterans make very successful small-business owners. So we've got a number of programs that provide training and technical assistance to veterans. We have veterans centers that specifically focus on delivering those services around the country. And we also have partners that have special veterans programs, whether it be through small business development centers or our SCORE partners, which some people know.

The other thing we've done is we've designed specific lending programs to reach members of the military community who need capital to grow. First of all, last year, we launched something called the "Patriot Express," which combines the best elements of all of our loan products into one. And the thing I love about the Patriot Express is it's not just for veterans. It's for reservists, it's for National Guard members, and their spouses. Military service is a family affair. Small business ownership is a family affair. And we're supporting the entire military family in doing this. Since our launch last summer, we've made over $100 billion in Patriot Express loans around the country, which is very exciting.

The other thing is a great program we have, but, very frankly, we've had a hard time telling people about it. It's something called the "Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan," maybe because it has such a long title. But effectively, what we say is this: If you're a reservist and you work for a small business and you get called up for active duty, if that small business is in some way injured economically by the fact that you were called up for active duty, that small business can apply to the federal government through the SBA for a 4 percent business loan. And on those loans we can go out as long as 30 years. So this is a great loan product for small businesses that are disrupted by the sacrifice that our reservists are making for our country.

Now, Congress just passed a bill and the president signed it earlier this year that allows people to pre-apply for these loans before they get called up. So if you're a reservist and you work for a small business, you should give us a call and pre-apply for one of these loans, so that if the small business is impacted somehow by your being called up, your paperwork's in place and we can kick in and support the challenges that the small business faces as a result of it.

Mr. Morales: That's a fantastic program. How is SBA ensuring accountability and managing for results? We will ask Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. Also joining us in our conversation, from IBM, is Paul Kayatta.

Steve, it's my understanding that in an effort to increase the transparency and accountability in small business contracting, SBA and OMB issued a small business procurement scorecard. Could you tell us a little bit more about this scorecard and what it tracks? But more importantly, could you elaborate on the overall federal performance in this area and what lessons are you learning?

Mr. Preston: Well, you know, just by way of background, the federal government has a mandate -- it's not a requirement, but it's a strong mandate -- to purchase at least 23 percent of what they buy from small businesses. We're the largest buyer of things in the world and so this is an important part of providing an opportunity to small businesses. But as I always say, it's not just about fairness, it's about good business. Because small businesses are often more flexible, they're often cheaper, they give everything they have, so it's good business to do business with small business.

But what we did was the following. We wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we can to help the other federal agencies meet their small business procurement targets, but also hold them accountable and to be honest about how we're doing. And so what we did is we launched a scorecard. Every one of the larger federal agencies has a small business goal: a percentage of their goods and services that they buy that should come from small business. And for also some different types of small businesses, we also have goals. For example, businesses owned by service-disabled veterans, they have goals for that. We were just talking about veterans.

What we do now is we rank every federal agency against their goals and then we also rank them based on the progress they're making to improve their performance. And then once a year, we issue a scorecard. And some people get green if they're doing well and hitting their goals, some get yellow, and a lot of them have gotten red. All of our views are that, you know, if somebody's not hitting their goal, we have to be honest about it. We're the federal government and this is a mandate. Let's be honest about it and if we're not hitting the goal, then let's put a pathway in place to achieve that goal.

Mr. Morales: Now, Steven, we talked earlier about reform and accountability. So specifically, what types of reengineering efforts are you embarking to address some basic operational issues such as reducing error rates, reducing backlogs, and reducing decision-making bottlenecks within the organization?

Mr. Preston: Well, you know, I think probably a very good example of that would be in our lending operations. As I mentioned before, we guarantee bank loans and credit union loans and other private lenders. If we need to make good on that guarantee, effectively what happens is the bank sells the loan back to us and we buy it and then we make good on it. Well, there have been many challenges in that operation. The backlogs at one point were very, very long. Our policies were confusing. It was difficult for the banks to interact with us, and so we did a number of things.

First of all, we made sure to clean up our policies, to make sure that they made sense, and then we rewrote all of our standard operating procedures and sent those to the banking community. It doesn't sound very exciting, but in a process like that you've got to make sure that the rule book is clear and the rule book wasn't clear. And the banks were asking us to make sure that we were crystal clear on how we did these things.

Then we actually took a look at how we do the process of purchasing a loan. It's almost like a little manufacturing operation except, you know, you've got a loan going through it. There were a lot of issues there that needed to be cleaned up to make it more efficient, to make it more consistent, to improve the processes. And then in addition to that, we needed to improve the technology so that we could support the improvement of that process.

The next thing we did is we instituted a customer service desk in our processing centers, so that the banks would have a place to call if they needed help or had questions.

And then the last thing we did was we undertook a very significant retraining program, not only for the people processing the loans, but for people in our field offices. And the reason for that is this: The banks are out there in the field and our people are out there in the field, and we wanted to make sure that we could have our people go physically to a bank if they were confused about our process, sit down with them, and help them work through it.

When we analyzed the bigger problems we had here, one of the biggest problems we had was a lot of the banks were sending in information that was incorrect or incomplete or they didn't understand the process. So we decided we had to train our people in the field to sit with banks and help them get it right the first time.

The other thing we do now is everything is tracked. I know what the backlog looks like. I know how old it is. I know which banks we're having challenges with. I know how much production we're doing. We have metrics on all of these responsiveness and efficiency measures, which we never had before, so that we can actually manage it effectively.

And the last thing we did is we told banks that we were going to make the process easier. And if they complied with the new process, we would deliver a promise to them of getting them their money in 45 days. Well, we have done that and right now we're getting them their money on average in about 25 days.

Mr. Morales: Wow, that's fantastic.

Mr. Preston: We're hitting the bank promise and we're getting tremendous kudos from the industry, so we're very excited about that.

Mr. Kayatta: Steve, could you tell us about some of the most critical issues that face small businesses today and what you're doing to assist them through those issues?

Mr. Preston: Well, right now, based on what we're seeing in the economy, I mentioned a little earlier that a lot of small businesses, especially those that have vehicle fleets or large facilities, are hurting from the increase in energy costs. Another thing that small businesses have been facing for a number of years, which is so difficult, is the increase in health care costs. Many people don't think of the health care challenges we have in the country as being a small-business issue, but many statistics would show that 70 percent of our uninsured workforce works for a small business. And the smaller a business is, the less likely they are to offer health care. So we have to make sure we understand how to work to improve the health care system to allow small businesses to offer it to their employees or for those employees to be able to buy it directly on a reasonable basis.

So for businesses that are specifically impacted by this economy or these costs challenges, we offer a lot of counseling services to help them think through how to address them in their business, how to manage their costs more effectively, how to manage their labor more effectively, how to manage cash flow more effectively, for example.

The other thing we're doing right now is making sure that we're doing everything we can to help them get capital they need. If they need working capital to grow or help through a challenging time, to make sure our guaranteed lending operations are getting to those people and supporting them.

Then the last thing I'd say that we're doing probably more so now than ever is making sure that we do everything we can that the voice of small business is heard on the policy front. We need to make sure that we're advancing the health care policy improvements that I mentioned. Right now, exports are very much on the agenda. A lot of people don't realize that almost 30 percent of our country's exports come from small- and medium-sized businesses. So we're working very hard to help people understand that because many of the trade agreements that are being contemplated right now are very good for small business, will open up those markets for them, add new jobs, and help them address the issues they face in the economy today.

Mr. Kayatta: So there's certainly a lot of opportunity in the whole world of international trade, and you talked about collaboration as well. Could you describe the Resource Partner Program and how it's working to fulfill the mission?

Mr. Preston: Yeah. And specifically in trade, our resource partners in the small business development centers and women's business centers and our partners at SCORE, which is a network largely made up of volunteers, many of those people have specific expertise in foreign trade. And they will sit down with a small business and help them think through what they need to do if they're looking at foreign markets to expand.

We also, in conjunction with the Department of Commerce, work very directly with small businesses on exporting to specific countries. So if somebody comes in the door, they can go to a U.S. Export Assistance Center and get help with respect to a particular country. For example, if they want to export to Portugal, we can help them understand it and then the Department of Commerce actually has resources in Portugal that can help them.

The last thing I would say right now is we are kicking off a series of trade symposia around the country. Just recently we had one in Miami, in a town outside of Miami actually called Hialeah, and we had 400 small businesses come to learn more about exporting. We brought small businesses that were successful exporters to speak in a roundtable to share their experiences. I talked about the value of free trade agreements in exports. We had a number of service providers that explained what services they could provide to help them out. We had a number of banks there to help them with their financing issues. It was a very, very exciting day for those businesses. And many of them were really encouraged by the opportunity they have to reach foreign markets.

We also do provide financing through our guaranteed programs for small businesses who need to build working capital to support their exports or if they export financing for the actual shipments.

Mr. Morales: So many people may not know that some of SBA's former clients, if you will, included such notables such as Intel, Apple, Amgen, Ben & Jerry's, and Federal Express, just to name a few. Given such success stories and these American icons, could you highlight perhaps, if you can, some up and coming success stories that you see in the near future?

Mr. Preston: Yeah, there's a great one. I mentioned Miami just a second ago, our trade symposium there. I had a chance to visit with an exporter down there who ships products all around the world for installation into industrial kitchens. And he has installed kitchens throughout Asia, in Latin America. Sometimes you really don't even know what's out there until you actually start seeing these small businesses and what they do. But, you know, he had a familiarity with China 20 years ago, and he set up an operation there and began installing kitchens in hotels that were being built and other industrial kitchens. Then he took it to a number of other countries, and now he's exporting to countries around the world.

A couple of months ago, I was in St. Louis, and there were two ladies who had started a business that develops software that blocks hackers from foreign countries who are trying to get into government computer systems. I mean, an incredibly valuable service to our country to protect our security infrastructure, and it was a small business with, you know, 10 or 20 employees that developed this software that's doing so much for our country.

So we forget how varied and valuable and innovative so many of these companies are. When you start hearing the stories, I got to tell you, it's just so encouraging. And that's, you know, actually one of the great things about this job is I get to go around the country and meet many of them.

Mr. Morales: That's exciting. It must give you a great sense of pride to see some of these organizations starting up and doing so well with what is seemingly a very small set of resources.

Mr. Preston: Well, you know, one of the other things I had the opportunity to do is speak with my counterparts around the world, who either lead commerce departments or small business departments in other governments. And frequently, people will say, well, how do you do it in America? You know, how come your small business culture is so energetic and so rich and it drives your economy? What should we do?

And I tell them about our programs and I tell them about our policies, but then, you know, I stop and I say, but small business is in our DNA. That's who we are as a country. We are an entrepreneurial culture. Kids grow up many times thinking about owning a business. They join Junior Achievement. They go to college and they take courses on entrepreneurship. Many of our best known Americans started out as small-business owners that they built into big businesses. And so it's so important that we have policies in our country that support the small-business owners, that support the people that have a dream and want to build that dream because it is the backbone of our economy. It drives innovation and competitiveness for our country around the world.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. So what does the future hold for SBA? We will ask Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. Also joining us in our conversation, from IBM, is Paul Kayatta.

Steve, I'd like to transition now to the future and talk a little bit about what you see as some of the major opportunities and challenges that your organization will encounter in, say, the next two to three years, and how you think SBA will need to adapt to meet these challenges.

Mr. Preston: There's a lot in that question. One of the things I'd say is we have to be ready for whatever changes might happen because some of them will be unexpected. And one of the things we're doing right now is to work throughout our employee base to put in place tools to help people address challenges, known or unknown, help people learn how to manage change, to envision positive change, and then to actually sponsor it and manage it. And so it's important for an organization to have a flexible mindset. That's a lot of what we're doing.

More specifically, things that we know that are coming down the pike, we have a significant population that's eligible for retirement, and it's not only unique to the SBA. Much of the federal government faces that issue. So what we are trying to do is actually look at that as an opportunity for our people. Because as people retire, we understand that we're losing a lot of talent and a lot of knowledge, but it also creates opportunities for other people for promotion. So we're rolling out very extensive training programs to ensure that people have the skills to do the jobs that they're in today, but also to prepare them for the jobs that may arise in the future.

We're also rolling out a process where every employee who elects to can do an individual development plan with their manager. That individual development plan looks at their strengths, opportunities for improvement, and then puts in place a pathway for them to be able to address those areas for improvement. We're then taking all of that information and building employee development programs designed around specialized training, potentially internship-type programs that would help these employees along their development pathway.

Mr. Morales: So along those lines, Steven, could you tell us a little bit about some of the major training initiatives, such as SBA University? And how do you ensure that your employees have the appropriate training and skills to meet some of these upcoming challenges that you described?

Mr. Preston: Well, training is so important and I think it's the easiest thing for an organization to cut when there's a budget challenge, but it's one of the most important things, I think, for any organization to protect. What we have done is, this last year, we designed something called SBA University, which was a one-week, off-site experience for employees to ensure that they had the fundamental skills to do the jobs that they're in as well as the tools to be more effective in addressing opportunities going forward. And we worked very extensively throughout our network of experts to design a curriculum that was very relevant to our programs and very relevant to the challenges we face. At this point, our entire field organization of almost a thousand people have been through at least one week of SBAU. People in our processing centers have been through it. And this summer, people in our headquarters operation will be going through SBAU.

The other thing it's designed to do is to ensure that people in management positions have the skills to manage their people effectively. We want to make sure that we have a management culture that fosters development and growth as well as productivity, as well as service quality. So those are the kinds of things we're doing there.

Now, through the individual development plan process, we will then use what we learned from our people in terms of their development needs and design a much longer term, much broader training strategy for the organization that will, I believe, provide a sustainable quality culture for the organization for many years to come.

Mr. Morales: So, Steven, to take advantage of this moment on radio, what advice could you give to a budding entrepreneur who may be out there listening to this show?

Mr. Preston: What I'd tell a budding entrepreneur is a few things. First of all, understand what you don't understand. Think about what it's going to take to be successful and understand where your challenges are going to be, and then get out there and get help. Make sure you've thought about your markets, you've thought about the capital you're going to need for that business, you've thought about what it's going to take to be successful. And then when you're honest about where you're strong and where you're not strong, make sure that you fill in your blind spots. Because we want to take all of that excitement and all that energy and all that commitment that you're going to be putting into that small business and make sure it's successful.

The other thing I'd say is it takes a lot. You know, I've often said every dollar of equity an entrepreneur puts in their business is matched with $10 of sweat equity. That's going to be very important to be a small-business owner. You really got to give it all you have and be realistic about the challenges.

I was interviewed recently by somebody who said, gee, you know, if somebody wants to have a more relaxed life and more free time, wouldn't you recommend their getting into a small business and owning a business? And I said you know what? That's just the opposite. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. But you know what? That's why our small-business economy is so powerful. It's because we have people who give it all that they've got.

Mr. Morales: And I've got to believe the rewards are even greater on that side.

Mr. Preston: They're terrific. And it's not just a job for people. It's their lives and it's their passion, and that's what makes it so exciting.

Mr. Morales: So, Steve, as a follow-up now, what advice would you give to a person who perhaps is considering a career in public service, whether that be at a local level or at a federal level?

Mr. Preston: Well, the advice I would give is based on the fact that I just think it is an incredible honor to be able to serve in a capacity that helps other people, that serves Americans in either delivering services to them or doing, you know, so many things that our government does for people that's valuable. I think it's very easy to get a sense of mission and a sense of value in work if you go into public service. And so what I would do is say, think about what you can give. Think about how you can move the needle. Think about how you can provide value to other people through that. And think about, you know, the skills that you build in the private sector or someplace else, how they can be effective in doing that.

Mr. Morales: That's great. Steven, unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. More importantly, Paul and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country in supporting the small business community.

Mr. Preston: Great. Thank you very much. And certainly, if there are any potential entrepreneurs out there or any small-business owners that have any challenges that they'd like us to help them with, please come to the Small Business Administration. You can find us at sba.gov.

The other thing I would like to encourage small-business owners out there to do is to look at some of the provisions in the stimulus package that was passed earlier this year. There are many tax advantages to investing in your business in 2008 that you may not be aware of, that could be very good for you and very good for our economy. So thank you very much.

Mr. Morales: Great. Thank you, Steven. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Steven Preston, administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. My co-host has been Paul Kayatta, partner in IBM's General Government Practice.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation. Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.

Jennifer Main interview

Friday, August 18th, 2006 - 19:00
Phrase: 
Chief Financial Officer U.S. Small Business Administration
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/19/2006
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Chief Financial Officer U.S. Small Business Administration
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast Saturday, August 19, 2006

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Morales: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Albert Morales, your host and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about the center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Jennifer Main, Chief Financial Officer at the Small Business Administration. Good morning, Jennifer.

Ms. Main: Good Morning.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice. Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Watson: Good morning, Al, and good morning, Jenny. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. Main: It is good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Mr. Morales: Jenny, let's start at the beginning. Could you tell us a little bit about the mission and the history of the Small Business Administration?

Ms. Main: Sure. The Small Business Administration was founded in the 1950s -- 1953 to be exact. So we just had our 50th birthday. And the mission has really been the same since the agency began, which is to serve the needs of small businesses, particularly in the United States. We do a little bit of outreach across the world, but the United States small businesses are our focus.

And the programs that we provide have also essentially been the same since the beginning of the agency, which is to provide credit opportunities. We used to do direct loans. Now we usually are partnering with the banking community to provide guarantees on loans that they are doing for small businesses around the country. We provide a lot of entrepreneurial development assistance, technical assistance you might call it, through partners across the country, the biggest program in that area, the small business development corporation program. There are over a 1,000 SBDCs -- they're called small business development corporations -- across the country, tend to be in colleges and universities that support entrepreneurs in their areas of local resources

And also procurement -- obviously the SBA's 8(a) program, which was named for the section of the act, but it's to assist small businesses, and particularly economically disadvantaged small businesses to get procurement opportunities, particularly with the federal government. We have a goal of ensuring that 23 percent of the federal contracts go to small businesses across the country.

So those are the main programs, particularly for small business assistance. We also advocate on behalf of small businesses within the federal government, for example, regulatory issues that come up that could have a particularly burdensome impact on small businesses.

And we also have a major role in disaster recovery across the country. And that one is not just small businesses, but homeowners as well. And that's the long-term economic rebuilding in an area after a disaster has struck. We provide long-term loans at very reduced rates. They tend to be -- right now, probably around 3 percent, which is a nice rate to get. For homeowners and businesses that have suffered physical damage or for businesses that have suffered economic injury, losses of -- there are no customers for the business and it shuts down, for example, so they can get recovery for those type of things.

So those are the main programs and the main areas that we've been working in. And really, although the programs have, you know, sort of, modernized over the years, they've really stayed the same in terms of their core purposes, and who they're -- they intended to serve.

Mr. Morales: That's great. That's certainly a very broad mission. Can you give our listeners a sense of the scale of the operations over at SBA? How many businesses are supported by your organization?

Ms. Main: Well, currently we're doing about over a 100,000 guaranteed loans through our main business programs each year. That totals a portfolio of about $60 billion right now in our primary lending program, again named for the section of the act that it was made under, 7(a), as the loan program that most people are -- the most familiar with. Between that and our Section 504 real estate development program, we have over a $60 billion loan portfolio. And of course we actually have a venture capital program as well, which some people are familiar with.

And then separately, our entrepreneurial development programs -- we reach, we believe, over a million businesses every year, and of course some of them are existing businesses, some of them are startups -- people who are considering going into business and trying to make that decision. And on the procurement front, I don't -- I'm not sure we have a good measure of how many we've assisted.

We have a lot of different things we try to do. We do business matchmaking opportunities, for example, where we've reached thousands of small businesses that are meeting up with either large contractors or potential government agencies or other entities that could be looking for small businesses to help them. So it's in the -- well over millions range that we've helped; certainly, you know, aggregate, you know, it's over 20 million over the years.

Mr. Morales: Can you tell us about the mission scope of your office specifically within SBA? Give us a sense of the number of employees, the size of the budget that you manage.

Ms. Main: I'll tell you, the whole agency is about 2,100 people -- our regular staff. We have disaster staff that can range -- 400 or so is our typical baseline. In the Katrina situation over the last year, the disaster employee base actually grew to about 4,000, which is, you know, twice the agency's size. So you have to, you know, kind of -- the core regular agency is 2,100. So it's a fairly small agency. The CFO's office is about 107 of those. And our budget in the CFO's office is, you know, $1-1/2 to 2 million range. It's pretty small. For my discretionary, you know, things that we need to get done. With the staff included, it's over 10 million in terms of their salaries.

The overall agency budget is just over maybe $650 million on average. Of course, the big factor's disaster. This past year we're going to spend a couple of billion dollars at least lending to victims in the disaster in the Gulf area. So our budget, if you looked at it at any one time it really is dependant on disaster.

Mr. Morales: It's just a variable component too.

Ms. Main: Right. If you exclude disaster, we are in the $600 million range.

Mr. Watson: Jenny, can you tell us a little bit about your responsibilities as the CFO, and how you support the mission of the SBA?

Ms. Main: Sure. I kind of think of what we do on two different fronts. On the one hand we're the financial operations, which means we have to work through the budget process, ensure that we get the funds, and just properly track them and account for them, make sure that everyone knows how much they get, what they are authorized to spend, that we don't spend a dime that we don't have all the paperwork properly in place for, and track that all the way through and do the financial reporting that's required.

We're one of the 24 CFO Act agencies -- we're one of the smallest -- but that means we're required to do anything that a CFO Act agency is required to do. So we have audited financial statements and quarterly reporting, et cetera. So the CFO's office covers all of those basic operations. And we certainly I think are typical in that sense in terms of what our role is.

The other side, in my mind of what we do is performance management, performance measurement, really trying to help support the agency in achieving its goals, ensuring that the funds that we spend are accomplishing what we intended them to accomplish.

In that regard I think of us a bit -- the program offices I think are very focused on serving their customer, identifying with their customer's need and making sure that they are doing everything they can to create creative products and interesting tools to help support their customer. And in the CFO's office, I feel a bit responsible, sort of, for the shareholder if you will. The taxpayer. Is the taxpayer getting, for the funds that are going into our agency, the best that it can get?

And ideally we have strong alignment between what we're trying to do for the customer and what we're trying to do for the taxpayer. That's the best scenario and usually it's the case and we're all in alignment. But sometimes you have a conflict there. You might have to look at them, and obviously, there are a lot of people who would have been very pleased if we could have just given out grants in the Gulf coast to people who had such disastrous events impact their lives. But from a taxpayer perspective, we don't have a program that budgets to give grants to everyone; we have a long-term loan program, and that means we can only make loans to people who meet our standards for the likelihood that they will pay those back. So in the CFO's office, I tend to think of myself as the one who's trying in our office. It's our job to make sure that the taxpayer's voice is at the table when the agency is making some of these kinds of decisions.

Mr. Watson: You know, responsibilities for CFOs differ across the 24 agencies. What responsibilities do you have as the CFO of SBA? Do you budget, for example?

Ms. Main: Yes. Yes, I have. Specifically, I have budget, accounting, financial reporting; I have internal controls. We also have performance management. And that's something new that we created in office about two or three years ago within the CFO's office that's called the Office of Accountability, Planning, and Analysis, with an emphasis on ensuring that we are measuring the results that we're getting from the funds that we're spending, that we're tracking outcomes, that we're tracking outputs and using that feedback to influence the business decisions we're making in terms of the funds that we request and how we spend the money that we get.

Mr. Watson: That's a broad scope of responsibilities. I know in reading your background before the show started that you had some private sector experience as well. How has that private sector experience prepared you for this role as CFO of SBA?

Ms. Main: Well, it's interesting. I actually -- and my private sector experience kind of spans a wide range. I worked at a very large consulting firm, multinational, huge place. And I actually worked in several small businesses, one of which I started with two other people, so from the very biggest to the very smallest. And I would say that I got some good experience in both of those places to work in an organization like the one I'm in.

From working -- having started my own business, the thing you have to do if you start a small business is be prepared to wear any hat. You could do every job in the business during one day. So you have to be ready to roll up your sleeves, no job is too big or too small to tackle. And the CFO's office that I came into almost four years ago now at SBA was really struggling. We were in a disclaimed audit opinion and we had a lot of challenges in front of us. And I think one of the things that helped me a lot personally, and helped me create a good rapport with our staff, was that I was willing to roll up my sleeves, get out my pencil and my calculator, and sit down and go through all the issues and really understand what was happening, why it was happening, and what was going on, and I think that earned me respect from my staff, which was -- is very important for a lot of reasons. And it just gave me an understanding of what was going on and helped me come up with better solutions, and provided opportunities for leadership.

So that's on the one hand. On the other hand, working at a very big firm I got an opportunity there to see that people have different skill sets, different styles, different roles. And that's what a team is made up of, that you're going to have different things coming to the table, and as the leader of the team, my goal is to leverage, bring out the best in all those skills in people that we have. And frankly, in some cases, try to minimize some of the weaknesses, you know, find a way to not have them impact the team while you work on making improvements, for example.

So between the two of them I really do feel like I used some of the skills that I got from those two different kinds of experiences in my regular work at SBA.

Mr. Morales: Jenny, we only have about a minute left, but I do also want to get to some other public sector experience that you've had outside of SBA. I understand that you spent a portion of your career as an expert in credit programs at OMB. How has this experience at OMB affected your perspective now at SBA?

Ms. Main: I think a couple of things on that front. The main one is certainly having been at OMB I really have an -- obviously an inside understanding of what they're looking for. So when we get into issues that OMB is going to be concerned about, and it happens very regularly, I have a pretty good sense of anticipating what their concerns will be, and that helps us be more prepared.

The other thing is, I really feel like I recognize that OMB is the policy entity for budget and financial management. We are the operations, so it helps me sort of frame issues with them sometimes that they may have a goal of what they want, but on the operational side it may just not really work that way. And so it's a nice opportunity. I have a lot of colleagues who still work at OMB that I have good relationships with, and I think it's been helpful on both sides to be able to engage in a sort of a knowledgeable dialogue about the issues.

Mr. Morales: Great. What are the Small Business Administration financial priorities? We will ask Chief Financial Officer Jenny Main to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Small Business Administration Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Main. Also joining our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

Jenny, can you describe for us what are the goals for your office in 2006?

Ms. Main: Sure. Probably the primary goal is the maintaining our unqualified audit opinion that we were able to achieve in 2005. I'm very optimistic about that, but I also have a new auditor this year, so that just by its nature brings a new set of folks looking at the issues and having different perspectives. So certainly we are anticipating that we'll get feedback that, you know, of a different nature than we've gotten in the past. So maintaining the unqualified opinion is our top priority.

We also have had a repeat material weakness for several years now. And that is really our target to get rid of that material weakness. We've taken a lot of action over the last few years, and I'm hoping that the cumulative effect of those is going to pay off this year in terms of eliminating that.

And the other big item that's on my radar screen is the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley type work for the federal government, the OMB Circular A-123. We started that last year like everyone else did, and I really want to get something valuable for the agency out of that. I don't want it to be a paperwork exercise. I want it to be something meaningful. And I think we're on track to do that. But that's been a real goal this year, is to make that add value at the agency, and not be something that people are just feeling they have to do.

Mr. Morales: I wanted to go into this audit opinion, because I think there's a wonderful story here. We understand that -- I believe it was in 2002, in your audit, you did have a disclaimer, but by 2005, you went back to an unqualified audit status. Can you describe some of the steps that SBA had to take to improve controls to get to unqualified?

Ms. Main: Sure. The cornerstone kind of the problem of the disclaimed audit opinion was that SBA had done a series of asset sales where we sold loans, primarily defaulted, but in some cases performing loans. And over time -- the sales were between '99, and 2002 -- and over time it became clear that the books that we were keeping, the accounting books, were not reflecting that we were making money on the sales. And yet the budget tools that we were using, the budget models, were showing that we were making money on the sales.

And I have to add that we were following the guidance that OMB has in its circular for how you do this type of thing. But it was complicated. It was a difficult problem and it was complicated and we were not -- by late 2002 when I got there it was clear that our accounting situation was very out of whack. I mean in effect the loans that were left on the books had to be valued at more than a 100 percent of the return. In other words, borrowers were going to pay us $120 for every $100 they owed us, which simply couldn't be true.

So that was kind of the cornerstone of the issue that got the disclaimer. And we had to resolve that issue itself, which we did through a team effort. We brought in experts from consulting firms. I obviously from my experience at OMB and credit accounting had a lot of expertise to add, and we worked with OMB. We actually asked them to be a partner with us in resolving that issue. So we worked through that and got those things resolved.

And then separately I really felt like we also had to look at what was it that allowed this to happen. And really we needed to address the culture in the CFO's office. So we did it primarily by creating teams. We created two teams, one for all loan programs credit issues in the CFO's office, and really anyone who works on credit issues within the CFO's office is a member of the credit team. And then we met biweekly. And I could give you a lot of details about exactly how we did it and what we did, but our goal was to expand communication and accountability.

Collectively we identified what the key issues were, and then we divided ourselves up into sub teams, and held ourselves responsible for getting those issues resolved. And that meant that everyone who was there had a role in finding solutions. And I think it really worked well just at a lot of levels in terms of getting folks involved in a constructive way to solve problems, empowering ourselves that we could solve problems and address the issues, and communication. If something was going on and someone knows about it in a pocket of our organization and two or three months later -- and they don't say anything -- and two or three months later it comes back as an issue, the whole group was willing to hold that person accountable for not having communicated and participated and worked through the issues.

So we really -- we broke down the silos. The budget, you know, team, the accounting team, the financial reporting team would -- you know, when I got there were sort of pointing fingers at each other. We broke those silos down and we said we're all on the CFO's team. Collectively we have to figure out how to solve these issues. So that was really to me the way that we moved from, over a three-year period from 2002, with a disclaimed opinion all the way up to the 2005.

Mr. Morales: A specific question. We understand that you also had to -- aside from the asset sales valuation method, which I think you needed to work on, was that you improved the cash and tracking of loan performance. Can you describe that a little bit?

Ms. Main: Sure. When I got there, we really didn't have adequate reports on what was happening. Particularly, as I mentioned, we had the $60 billion loan portfolio. And what that means is we have cash coming in every month, fees and repayments of loans, all sorts of different potential sources of funds that are coming in to our account there, as well as funds that are going out. Payment of defaults, payment for care and preservation of collateral, for example. And the fund that these loans are in, it's called a financing account in budget terms, and it's technically a non-budgetary account, because you've accounted for the cost on the budget front in the -- what's called the program account.

So these financing accounts don't have all the same controls on them that a traditional budget account would have. And the problem was that they were -- the team that was there at the time didn't have adequate knowledge of what was coming in and what was going out. In fact, when I got there that summer -- I'm happy to say it happened a month or two before I got there -- we overdrew the account by $50 million that they paid out. And so they clearly did not have enough knowledge about that.

And so we instituted a really tight monthly report -- I would say it took us literally a year and a half to get the report to where it should have been, you know, honing and improving it. But we have a really tight monthly report now that everyone takes a look at and understands exactly what's coming in each month, what's going out. And if you do that and you break it down by your loan programs, you can really understand, are we on track for the defaults that we expected to occur this year? Are we on track for the fees that we expected to get? How are we doing on recoveries? And you can do that by every program that you have. And that's really helped us in our long-term modeling that we have to do to understand what the costs of these programs are.

Obviously, loan programs by their nature -- you make a loan today, you expect to get paid back, but you don't know until year three, four, five, whether the borrower was really going to do that. So we're constantly modeling these long-term liabilities. And having much better data, much more accessible, has really improved the models that we have. And I think that's also been a big part of eliminating our disclaimed audit opinion. And we also had a mature weakness in that area, and that was eliminated in 2005 as well.

Mr. Watson: Jenny, I read your auditor's report before coming here. And they had strong praise for the corrective actions that you've implemented and the financial improvements you've made. Yet SBA's still not at the green status on the PMA. What additional improvements are needed to get to green?

Ms. Main: Well, the last remaining item is this repeat material weakness in financial reporting. And there were a number of items in our audit recommendation list particularly setting up, for example, change control process around accounting -- that's an example. I feel like we should have had some miscellaneous weaknesses last year, certain items that the auditors found that they weren't comfortable with. My hope is that we've addressed all of those. And we really feel like we have a solid quality assurance process in place.

They recommended that we continue to improve our quality assurance. We did hire an additional credit accountant this year. And with the A-123 internal control initiative, we've also done more of our own testing and our own analysis in the financial reporting front.

Another thing we've been doing is -- most agencies have been doing this, to meet the accelerated financial statement deadlines -- is quarterly -- the level of quality assurance and analysis that you're doing quarterly has really increased. Things we used to just do at the end of the year, now we're doing quarterly, you catch a problem much easier earlier in the year than you had before.

I don't think we have a pervasive weakness that I can see. So I think we have some smaller issues that last year our auditor felt like we had enough small ones that they added up to enough of a big thing that they didn't want to say okay, the material weakness is gone. I've been of the view that we're there. And we'll see. We have a new auditor coming in, and I'm actually very much looking forward to getting their views on how we're doing, and in comparison to the other agencies they worked with.

Mr. Watson: Well, good luck with moving to green this year. Moving away now from the audit and the financial reporting to your additional responsibilities to work with program managers better support the business. What steps are you taking there to help the program managers better operate at SBA?

Ms. Main: Best way I can answer that is to sort of tell you my philosophy about that role, which is, I feel very strongly that the CFO's office is a support office, and I'm excited -- you read articles today about CFOs getting a seat at the table. And I'm excited about being, you know, perceived as having a strong role in an agency. But I really want us to use that to empower the program offices to be responsible for their programs, and to ensure that they are getting results that they have established.

I don't want to be the one setting up goals, then telling them that they have to meet them, and then hearing from them that they don't believe in the goals. I want them to establish the goals, and then we'll help hold them accountable. We'll give them tools, try to give them resources. The whole point is to have -- they're the program managers, they know the programs best, and I want to support and help them in achieving what they've identified as the best way to achieve the agency's mission.

So that's really my philosophy about it. Again, the best example I have is this year with the A-123, the internal control situation. We did a sit down kind of qualitative assessment with each of the managers in the main program areas and said, what's keeping you up at night? What's happening in your area that makes you worried? And we identified a couple critical ones. And we've used the contractor that the CFO's office had hired to do this implementation, to go in and do extra testing and create recommendations for them about what they could do to address some of those issues.

So really to make it practical and valuable for them, that they'd have something additional to say when the IG or someone else comes in and says, "What have you done about this?" And we've helped them solve a real tangible problem that they identified that they were worried about. It's a big thing for me. I want them to have ownership of those types of things, the goals and the issues.

Mr. Watson: Following up on that, did ownership of data change, or processes, or the way the CFO interacts with the program offices?

Ms. Main: Well, it's interesting. The data ownership -- we were actually -- the last couple of years the CFO's office has expanded the amount of data that we kind of are tracking for our performance and accountability report, to the annual report that the agency has to do like all federal agencies. And one of my big goals this year is to trim back that data that we all say we're going to track. And if the program officers want to use the data that we've been collecting for their own management purposes, then great. But if they don't, then we shouldn't be tracking it. I think we've accumulated some data in the last few years that we've taken on ownership of, and I'm trying to push it back out. I want them to be the owners of it, because that's where the quality's going to come from. If they use it, the data quality will be good, because they care about it, and they'll notice when something is askew. If they don't use it, it could take a long time for someone to notice that there's a problem with the data, if no one's using it, keeping an eye on it.

Mr. Watson: Moving beyond basic scorekeeping, do you work with the organization to actually help them achieve their goals?

Ms. Main: Definitely. SBA's a very small agency. And literally, the headquarters, the whole management team is in one building on four floors -- five floors. So I see the folks that I work with, I see them at the management meetings, and I see them down at the lunch counter. And I've developed, I think, pretty good relationships with them as I'm working through them -- with them, and trying to keep my eye on what tools do they need, what things do they need that I can help them with.

Mr. Morales: Jenny, we talk with many of our guests about this topic of ownership, of about working together in collaboration. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve the operations or the outcomes at SBA? And how will partnerships with other federal agencies, or the private sector for that matter, change over time?

Ms. Main: I guess I have two different answers for that question. In the first answer, SBA is very much about delivering its products through its partners. Almost all of our programs are delivered through the lending community, and as I mentioned, the small business development companies around the country. Partnership with the private sector is really what we're about. We can't afford to be having a lot of one-on-one relationships with small businesses. So the entire model of the agency's delivery mechanisms has changed to this partnership notion. And we actually engaged in some discussions internally about, is the customer the lending community, or is the customer the small business? And obviously the small business is the ultimate customer, but we recognize that those partners in the private sector are the ones really delivering the services. So we're focused on both. So it's been -- that's a big area for SBA.

In the CFO's office in particular, I would also add -- and I think this is also happening across other federal agencies -- we are recognizing that there are areas of expertise that we can just leverage private sector expertise. We don't to have to do it ourselves.

This notion of outsourcing, hosting -- SBA moved to -- shifted its administrative accounting system to -- we outsourced it to a -- through a competitive bidding process. And that has worked out very well for us. And I think we'll continue to do that, and we're looking for more opportunities to outsource the hosting of our major systems. And potentially, even some of the core functions that repeat commercial operations that could be done anywhere in this budget environment, which is just extremely tight, and anyone who pays attention to what's happening to the budget can see that 10 years from now it's going to be -- it's only going to get worse. We have to be finding ways to lower our costs. And the outsourcing, working with the private sector, is absolutely a top priority for us.

Mr. Morales: How is SBA integrating budget and performance information? We will ask CFO Jenny Main to share the details with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Small Business Administration CFO Jenny Main. Also joining us in our conversation is IBM's partner in financial management, Steve Watson. Jenny, many agencies are working to implement the budget and performance integration aspect of the PMA. And we've talked a little bit about the PMA in our last segment. What is the status of SBA's plan for this effort?

Ms. Main: I'm really pleased to be able to say that SBA has been green on the budget and performance integration in President's management agenda item since a quarter or two after they started the PMA. We were one of the first agencies to be green. And I think the reason for this is that the agency has had a lot of experience that probably since 1998, we've had an activity-based cost model that we used to identify the cost across the agency of the activities that we do. And we've been pretty successful at linking our whole budget environment to -- you know, having a strategic plan that's the baseline that identifies the key outcomes we're trying to achieve.

Our budget itself is mapped to those, and then includes the activity-based cost results in terms of what things cost us, and then our performance and accountability report reports against those same things with the costs identified all the way through.

So that framework has really helped us demonstrate that we're focused on budget and performance integration. And actually, if you went to the culture within the agency, we have what we call -- it makes me laugh -- it's called the execution scorecard.

I always wanted to call it the executive scorecard, but it's the execution scorecard that the chief operating officer uses to manage the program managers and all the managers throughout the agency. And the items that are in there are the same things that are in our budget, on our performance accountability report. He meets monthly with the major office heads to go over the results and how they're doing to date, against those things. So you can really kind of show that we have an integrated performance culture. And I think those different components all put together have helped us achieve green in the first place, and then sustain it going forward.

One thing that concerns me though in this march towards budget and performance integration, which I wholly support, is that there are really two sides to what you have here. You have the cost side, and we're getting better and better. The tools, the data, are more readily available. It's cheaper to track data and keep it and look at it. So we're getting really good at identifying what it costs us to do things. The other side though was the benefits. Unfortunately, particularly in a lot of the programs that the federal government is involved in -- we're involved in them because for some reason the private sector isn't doing them, but collectively our government and our country have decided that they're important activities for us to do.

So there's a benefit there. And it's very hard though for us sometimes to figure out what the benefit is. We have a range, as I mentioned, of different loan programs at SBA. What's the benefit of a small business getting a loan on the terms and conditions that a private sector bank wouldn't provide them? That's the criteria for our primary loan program that the lender wouldn't provide that loan on the same terms and conditions. So figuring out exactly what benefit -- how much revenue we add to the economy.

Well, did, you know, the business retained a person or two, a job or two, or maybe even the whole company that they wouldn't have otherwise. Figuring out how to measure the incremental effect of that is really challenging. We've been working on it a lot, and it's not new to folks who follow this type of issue in the social services world. Because we're so focused on costs and benefits, and because our benefit data isn't so great, we're driving to the lowest cost products.

And I think maybe, especially since I'm in the -- I'm the CFO, I'm the one who's supposed to keep my eye on the budget, I worry that if we keep doing our jobs so well, we're just going to have all the low-cost programs funded, and anything that's higher cost, because we haven't shown what the -- that the benefit is commensurate with the higher cost, you know, we're not going to be able to do those things. So that scenario I've been struggling with. Our office has been leading a large multiyear program evaluation trying to quantify the benefits of some of our loan programs.

But it's challenging. I know when we're done there'll be, you know, a potential for people that, well, you didn't have a prefect comparison sample, because you can't.

Mr. Watson: Jenny, shifting gears here a little bit, the internal control requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley have moved into the public sector in the form of an expanded circular A-123. How is SBA implementing the new A-123 requirements?

Ms. Main: Well, we've really done what I would call, sort of, a traditional A-123 implementation, and I'll confess in the government you're allowed to do this. We just took OMB's guidance that they provided us last summer and used it as the basis of our plan. We just went section by section and said, "Okay, OMB wants us to do these things, let's put them in our plan." So we're kind of trying to do the baseline traditional version of it. And it's actually worked well for us in the sense that I think everyone's clear about the goals, there's a lot of documentation for exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it.

But as I mentioned earlier, from my perspective, the number one thing is to bring this back to the actual issues the agency is facing, and allow it to give us a few solutions to problems that we know we have. SBA has literally a couple hundred open IG audit recommendations, and we are not alone in that. Any agency you go to is going to have a lot of open audit recommendations. We have unresolved issues. If there are issues around that the resources we're using under A-123 can help solve some of these problems then my view is let's do that.

Rather than going finding more new things, let's make it really hands-on and practical and solve a few of those problems. So we picked to go deep, if you will, in a couple of key places. Rather than 10 miles wide and an inch deep, we said we'll go five miles wide and pick two or three and really drill down. And that's how we've done it. And I feel like I've gotten some really good feedback from our program managers, because they're going to have something tangible that they can use in a response to the IG, for example, on a problem they've been working on.

Mr. Morales: As a result of your efforts, are there any lessons learned you will apply for next year, or could provide to other government agencies that are going through the A-123 process?

Ms. Main: Well, certainly the most practical one that we're learning right now is because we spent the whole year planning, and this is the first year of it, we're testing the exact same time that the auditors are testing. It's frustrating on a number of fronts. We certainly wish that we would -- could and hopefully next year will test -- you know, February-March range. It'll separate the sampling process. Right now, we have program offices getting request for samples of loans from our internal management's auditor, and which is -- because we hired a firm to help us -- and from the IG's external auditor.

And they don't know the difference. You know, we can try to tell them, and I've tried, believe me. But when all is said and done, you know, they're auditors, whatever, you know. So hopefully if we push our testing back a few months, maybe February-March, and then I would say we'll have the results earlier. And if there are issues that you can address and get them solved, that's the ideal situation. At least by September 30th you might be able to show that you've cleaned up whatever the problem was, and that you have a practice in place that the auditor, then when they test it in June or July they'd see something that they're comfortable with.

Mr. Watson: Do you envision being able to integrate that testing going forward so that there's not the A-123 auditors and then the traditional financial statement auditors both testing and looking at data?

Ms. Main: Well, from everything I can tell, the intention is that they want us to test for ourselves, and have the auditors test on top of it. That's my understanding of where they're headed. I think they're willing to let us document -- you know, the first year they want us to test every -- a baseline of the key processes, and then going forward it seems like there's some opportunity to show, hey, we have a really strong track record that we don't have any issues. We have these processes in place that would tell us if there's an issue, and therefore we're only going to -- we're going to sample a smaller number, we're going to sample less frequently in a sort of a multiyear kind of thing. But I think the notion that management has to have something of its own to stand behind the assertion where we have to assert as to the quality of our controls that are in place -- in the past you could make that assertion based on whatever your --- process would let you get away with in a sense.

You know, you had to write a letter, and it said, "Yeah I've looked things over. I've checked it out. Based on my management judgment, I think we're fine." And my understanding is now you have to say, "Hey, I feel good about the internal controls, and I tested them. And we didn't have any exceptions." Or, "The exception I had I could understand and explain it away," you know, whatever the case may be. But you have to have that testing, I think, to make the assertion that you have things under control.

Mr. Morales: Jenny, how has SBA handled the accelerated financial reporting requirements implemented in '05 and '06, and what steps is your office taking to ensure the deadlines will be met?

Ms. Main: This one I -- near and dear to my heart. We actually had a disclaimed audit opinion the first year that they -- that was actually in '04, the first year that they were -- we had to meet the November 15th. The number one that was one word, "planning." And we literally planned down to the day who was doing what, when. We had plans and sub-plans because our auditor -- and of course our auditor was nervous about making November 15th too, it's a lot of work for us, it's a lot of work for them.

Our IG and OMB, we had so many planning meetings and discussions, we had literally almost 100 pages of planning documents of exactly what was going to happen when we tracked every component of the financial reporting process down. And then the audit process, I think they did the same thing on top of it. And that's how we made it. And it served us very well because we could just update those plans in subsequent years.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for SBA? We will ask CFO Jenny Main to discuss this with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with SBA's chief financial officer, Jenny Main. Also joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, partner in IBM's financial management practice.

Mr. Watson: Jenny, in the last segment we were talking about various OMB initiatives for internal controls and accelerated reporting. I want to talk to you a little bit about the line of business initiatives. Where is SBA with respect to implementing lines of business?

Ms. Main: We're very supportive of the lines of business initiative. I can tell you as again, one of the smallest of the CFO Act agencies, we are constantly looking for opportunities to team up with a bigger agency who has gone the path of getting all of the standards and requirements in place for some sort of technology that we can just piggyback on. But we're just too small to be developing our own things. That said, we had just outsourced our administrative accounting system in 2003, right when the line of business initiative was kicking off for the financial management side.

And so we're anticipating when that contract is up -- we have a very, very good contract that has been very cost effective for the agency. So we don't want to move away from that in the short run. But when that contract is up in a couple more years we'll be anticipating transitioning to one of the existing centers of excellence or, you know, our service provider is actually I think becoming a center of excellence. So that will be a competitive opportunity that we'll look at. We are a small entity that benefits from others who want to do this. I don't anticipate us becoming a center of excellence because we're a small fry in the mix.

Mr. Morales: Jenny, I want to transition, now, to the future. What trends will have the largest impact on SBA, say, in the next five to ten years?

Ms. Main: I think it continues to be technology. We're primarily a wholesale provider of services to the small business community. We're working through our partners as I mentioned. And technology -- you know, the number of people who have computers and Internet and access to things -- we really want to move to 100 percent electronic transactions with everyone that we deal with. Obviously, aside from training and counseling type of activities where although you can do a lot of that through the Internet, and we've been expanding our presence on that front, you know, person-to-person is still I believe an important part of like a training or a counseling program.

But lending and those types of things -- the lenders are going to be the ones that interface directly with the small businesses, and we really will just interact electronically with our lenders. And we're using technology now to monitor our lenders much more effectively. We can get data. We have over 4,000 lenders. We need to know very quickly which ones are high risk, and you can use data to do that today. And we'll just become more efficient and proficient at that in the future.

The other area that, unfortunately, I'm not so optimistic about -- I know it's going to impact us, but it's not in a good way, is the budget. As a small domestic agency, very small, we have already shrunk almost, well, over 30 percent as our -- what our budget has declined over the last five years. Our staff has gone down 20 percent. We haven't given up any programs or any major programs at least, and our loan portfolio only grows. When you make loans, it creates a liability that can be 5 to 10 to 15 years down the road that you're still working on it.

So we have to maintain sufficient infrastructure. As a steward of the taxpayer's dollars, it is penny wise and pound foolish not to be maintaining an adequate infrastructure to manage that portfolio. In this current budget environment we're looking at cuts, you know, across all the agencies. I'm not the only one, you know, singing this problem. But I -- when I look at the impact of that on our agency it makes me very nervous, and we've been working hard for the last few years to try to figure out strategies. But you get to a point where you can't tighten the belt anymore, there's bone there, and just need a different approach.

Mr. Morales: Certainly a challenge. I want to transition back to some comments you made earlier in the show around disaster and disaster planning. And we've talked to many of our guests about what their organization's role is in this area. What role does SBA play in national efforts to support businesses and the economy during a disaster response?

Ms. Main: Well, SBA has one major disaster program. It's a loan program. We provide long-term recovery loans for rebuilding either homes or businesses after a disaster. And that's -- it's been a bit of a challenge. And over the past year with the extreme nature of the disaster in the Gulf, I think folks really wanted, for example, a bridge loan type of thing. Something that could keep them going for a few months while they were trying to figure out how they were going to salvage their business, or whether they were going to be able to return to the area.

And unfortunately, SBA doesn't have a statutory program that provides a short-term bridge loan product. And that was a source of, I think, a lot of frustration. But what we really have is the long-term recovery program. And in fact, most of the loans are 30 years. We will extend the payment term out as long as it takes for the borrower to be able to make the payments on their forecasted, you know, income that's available. So that's our primary program. It's been around for more than 30 years.

And overall, I would call it a very successful program. Folks who have used it -- Northridge earthquakes, for example, we did about $4 billion there in Southern California. We've gotten, over the years, a lot of positive feedback about it. But in such a dire circumstance like the Gulf, I think we found that that program alone was challenging. It caused a lot of frustration that there weren't more things. And, you know, today you can find that Mississippi and Louisiana are actually giving out grants to homeowners who have gotten SBA loans, and we're going to use -- and we're coordinating with them to coordinate that benefit.

But the devastation has been so bad that the federal government responses said, you know, we want to go a step further. So we've been working with them to make that happen.

Mr. Morales: Great. Jenny, you've enjoyed successes both in the private and now in the public sector as well as starting up your own business. What advice could you give to a person who's interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Main: Well, certainly, I've always loved being a public servant. I actually have a master's degree in public policy. So I really enjoy the challenges, the issues that you face. I mean, I kind of define the issues that the government frequently is looking at, or the things that didn't get taken care of in the private sector. There are issues that people care about, but the for-profit bottom-line isn't making them happen. So that by its nature I think makes it interesting. And I would certainly offer encouragement.

And we're looking at a huge demographic shift in the federal workforce in the next 15 years -- 40 -- 45 percent of SBA staff are eligible to retire in the next 5 years. So we need good people. So I would very much encourage anyone who's interested in public service. I would say that it's a -- it can be very challenging. There's a lot of tough things about it. But I personally feel like I make a difference every day. Personally being there, helping to make a decision or change something that otherwise would have gone a different way, I feel like I make a difference everyday, and that's very rewarding.

Mr. Morales: Great. Excellent. Jenny, unfortunately that -- we've run out of time here, and that'll have to be my last question. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule today. But more importantly, Steve and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the public in our country in the various roles you've held at OMB and now at SBA.

Ms. Main: Thank you very much. I really appreciated the opportunity to be here. And I just want to make sure that all of your listeners know that if they're interested in the Small Business Administration and the products and services that we offer, particularly if they're considering starting up a small business, you can go to our website, which is www.sba.gov, and take a look at all the many great programs that we have.

Mr. Morales: Great. Thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Chief Financial Officer of the Small Business Administration, Ms. Jennifer Main. Be sure to visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs, and get a transcript of today's conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who can't hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support. For The Business of Government Hour, I am Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.