Ernst seeks information about SBA’s artificial intelligence use cases, IT work

In a letter, the Senate Republican questioned why the SBA hadn’t disclosed artificial intelligence uses in its inventory, alleging the agency was out of compliance.
SBA building
U.S. Small Business Administration offices. (GAO photo).

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is seeking information about the Small Business Administration’s IT investments and alleged undisclosed artificial intelligence use cases.

In a letter dated May 9 and made public this week, Ernst primarily requested details about how the SBA is managing IT investments through its IT Working Capital Fund, which the Iowa Republican said it hasn’t used appropriately. But she also probed the agency for details about its AI use cases, alleging the SBA had uses it hadn’t reported publicly in its annual inventory.

“In a recent interview, you stated that the SBA has embraced AI. Despite this, the SBA has not been transparent and reports that it has not used AI,” wrote Ernst, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. 

AI use case inventories, which were required initially under a Trump-era executive order and later enshrined into statute, are intended to provide information about agency uses of the technology in disclosures posted on their websites. 


However, Stanford research, a Government Accountability Office review, and FedScoop reporting have found that AI inventories have lacked consistency and, in some cases, have omitted uses that should be made public. The Biden administration has recently expanded reporting requirements for those inventories and is looking to improve them.

While the SBA’s AI use case inventory currently shows no uses of the technology, Ernst cited several instances in which the agency had publicly touted AI use cases at the agency. 

She highlighted a May 2023 press release that stated “SBA will use advanced data analytics, third party data checks, and artificial intelligence tools for fraud review on all loans in the 7(a) and 504 Loan Programs prior to approval, starting August 1, 2023.” 

Ernst also pointed to a June 2023 press release that said the agency had used “several tools, including first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence,” to block millions of applications for pandemic relief that were ineligible, duplicative, or attempts at fraud.

In addition to IT investment information and AI disclosure, Ernst also requested information about how SBA planned to use its IT Working Capital Fund to improve its score for the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.


Ernst said despite the establishment of the fund — which was created under the Modernizing Government Technology Act that became law in 2017 — SBA “has had declining performance in its efforts to manage IT and implement” FITARA. In the past three years, the agency hasn’t achieved higher than a “C” on its FITARA score, which tracks agency IT modernization progress.

The SBA confirmed to FedScoop that it had received the letter but didn’t provide further comment. Ernst had requested a response by May 23.

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