Wish upon a STAR

WISH UPON A STAR….At face value, the Supplemental Terrorist Activity Relief Act (or STAR Act), passed shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, was a good idea. Countless businesses were badly hurt by the terrorist attacks, and the STAR Act was a federal loan program designed to help businesses avoid bankruptcy and recover.

The problem seems to have been in the execution of the idea.

A Texas golf course, a Nevada tanning salon and an Illinois candy shop were among small businesses that may have improperly received U.S. subsidized loans intended for firms hurt by the September 11 attacks, an internal government watchdog has found.

The Small Business Administration’s inspector general said in a report made public on Wednesday that in 85 percent of the sample of loans it reviewed, a company’s eligibility to receive the money through the program could not be verified.

If this story sounds familiar to you, details about bizarre STAR Act funding first surfaced several months ago. There was the money a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in western New York received, despite not having been affected by terrorism. An air-testing services company in Wyoming received $158,500 through program, despite the fact that the company didn’t even exist before 9/11.

Bear in mind, the businesses themselves are hardly to blame. They applied for routine Small Business Administration loans and had no interest in the terrorism-relief funds. The SBA, however, according to the report released today, failed to properly oversee lenders to make sure that only eligible borrowers obtained STAR loans.

On a related note, who’s the head of the Small Business Administration? That would be Hector Barreto, the former Republican fundraiser recently featured by The New Republic as one of the Bush administration’s most inexperienced hacks.

Senate Small Business Committee Chairwoman Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said today that her panel would launch an investigation into STAR abuses. She said the same thing back in September, so we’ll have to wait and see if substantive follow-up happens or not.