Charles S. Clark | October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

Trump Agency Website Changes Continue to Raise Concerns

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., does not like SBA's handling of Spanish-language materials on the website. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., does not like SBA's handling of Spanish-language materials on the website. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

A Democratic senator has complained that the Small Business Administration has removed its Spanish-language website, though the agency disagrees with that characterization.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, on Tuesday wrote to SBA Administrator Linda McMahon seeking an explanation and background documents on the agency’s recent alterations to its “SBA en español” webpage and substitution of instructions to use Google Translate.

“Minority owned businesses are two to three times more likely to be denied credit, more likely to avoid applying for loans based on the belief that they will be turned down, and more likely to receive smaller loans and pay higher interest rates on the loans that they do receive,” Cardin wrote. “Given the benefits of entrepreneurship and the significant challenges minority-owned entrepreneurs have to overcome, the SBA should be taking steps to make it easier, not harder for Hispanics to start and grow their small businesses.”   

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Specifically, Cardin noted that “SBA en español, which reportedly hasn’t been updated since December 2016, provided accurate translations and its blog provided valuable information about issues that are unique to Hispanic business owners, including tips for accessing capital and securing federal contracts. It also provided valuable information about LINC–the predecessor to Lender Match–a technology platform that allows entrepreneurs to connect directly with approved SBA lenders,” he said. “Unfortunately, Lender Match only exists in English, and the ‘translate’ option is not currently available.”   

Acknowledging the value of Google Translate for “casual” purposes, Cardin said “it is not the appropriate tool for conveying complex business and legislative information. The translation is not always literal,” he added. “As expressed by Fernand Fernandez, the former interim president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, ‘when operating a business, you have to handle legal terminology, tax codes and complicated procedures for acquiring business loans. SBA en español helps Hispanic business owners take the steps to start and scale businesses in a clear and comprehensible manner.’ ” 

An SBA spokeswoman told Government Executive on Wednesday that “SBA recognizes and honors the needs of Hispanic business owners and we are taking a number steps online and through our marketing materials to improve our outreach to this important audience. Under the SBA’s previous administration, the agency developed a separate Spanish-language website with limited functionality and a relatively narrow scope of resources. This site was built on an older operating system that the Office of Chief Information Officer identified as having potential cyber-security vulnerabilities,” she said.

So earlier this year, SBA initiated “a broader effort” to identify “the most-frequented online resources and tools, and to translate those pages into Spanish utilizing native Spanish speakers. In an effort to ease the transition in the interim and make SBA resources accessible to the broadest-possible audience,” she continued, ”SBA introduced Google Translate functionality to SBA.gov, a tool that allows SBA resources to be quickly translated into more than 100 languages.”

Separately, the Justice Department on Thursday came under criticism from a transparency group for quiet alterations to webpages for its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a grant-maker for state and local governments with a key role in juvenile justice policy.

According to the latest monitoring reports from the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, Justice “removed webpages detailing still-active programs and policy guidance without notice, and altered language on its website to match what one former official called the ‘tough on crime’ ” messaging of the Trump administration.

From the summer of 2017 until this past summer, Sunlight said, the office—without notice or explanation--removed pages with titles like “Girls and the Juvenile Justice System” and “Engaging Families and Youth in the Juvenile Justice System Policy Guidance.” The issues in the removed material included the use of solitary confinement and tracking of when youth become involved in the justice system.

The office also altered its vision and mission statements in ways that emphasize punitive policies, and which juvenile justice advocates who spoke to the nonprofit’s monitors called concerning. For example, the common term “justice-involved youth” was changed to “offenders,” and a vision statement was edited so that the goal of “a nation where children are healthy, educated and free from crime and violence” was edited to remove the words “healthy and educated.”

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