Editorial: Feds should embrace transparency, release details of PPP loans

With a second round of funding for the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program, Congress has allocated $659 billion to the effort to preserve payrolls — and jobs. But with the initial $349 billion exhausted within a little more than a week, and the second round of $310 billion soon to be spent, accountability with the program has been lacking.

News organizations nationwide have reported on large enterprises that obtained millions of dollars under the program. Some, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Shake Shack and others have been forced by public pressure to return the money. Broomfield-based DMC Global Inc. announced that it would return $6.7 million that it received.

That some large companies with other sources of capital received PPP loans intended for small businesses came to light not because of openness on the part of the U.S. Small Business Administration but because publicly traded companies had to report the loans in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

One would expect that principles of open government would prompt the SBA to identify every recipient of every PPP loan, including how much they received. This would be in keeping with other SBA loan programs, as well as Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grant recipients.

But that’s not what’s happening, at least so far. A Freedom of Information Act request for the information filed by The Washington Post was denied. BizWest has not yet received a response to a similar request for information. A regional spokesman for the SBA told BizWest that there was “no indication yet” about when or if such information would be made available.

Should the SBA indeed keep the information secret, it would violate the principles of open government and could serve to conceal other recipients who perhaps shouldn’t have received funds. It also leaves open the potential that conflicts of interest exist with some recipients. Without a full and open list of recipients, the public will have doubts about the program.

For the record, BizWest Media LLC, publishers of BizWest, received $151,967 in a PPP loan. As a small business with 14 full-time employees, it’s provided a vital financial cushion in difficult economic times.

Perhaps the SBA is focused first on getting funds to companies that need them and will then turn its attention to responding to FOIA requests for details of the program. We hope that’s the case. Only through openness will the public trust that $659 billion was put to good use.