The Small Business Administration now has a leader to run the agency’s day-to-day operations after a near three-year vacancy.
Dilawar Syed was named SBA’s deputy administrator by President Joe Biden in January and was confirmed by a 54-42 Senate vote on Thursday. Five Republicans voted to confirm him. He is the highest-ranking Muslim official in the U.S. government.
“While his confirmation has been a process fraught with unacceptable delaying tactics, unfounded accusations, and unrelated controversies, Mr. Syed has shown only patience and perseverance,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, in a statement.
Syed’s nomination was protested by Republicans who wanted a more clear answer from him about whether he intended to “claw back” PPP loans to Planned Parenthood affiliates, said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in a Lousiville Courier-Journal column. That raised concerns for others, including Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who criticized SBA for disbursing emergency funding to fraudsters during the pandemic.
SBA, led by Isabella Guzman, is in the midst of multiple ongoing projects related to COVID-pandemic recovery for small businesses. The agency will soon be intaking applications for the $28 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Over the last year, SBA paid $970 billion dollars in Paycheck Protection Program aid, as well as the small business debt relief program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Those responses have drawn criticism from lawmakers who say the programs did not ensure funding went to eligible small businesses.
As of January, there were 536 ongoing investigations pending at the SBA’s inspector general office, and the statute of limitations for COVID-19 aid fraud was extended to 10 years, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“To see that criminals were able to deprive small business for money that was intended for them, that is obviously very disturbing,” Syed said during his testimony at a March 8 nomination hearing. “If I’m confirmed, I commit to you that I will make it my top priority to work with the administrator, who I know has put in place enhanced controls, but there are additional ways we could improve things. I want to obviously study and evaluate what the state of our controls are ... I have zero tolerance for fraud.”
Syed previously served under the Obama administration as a member of the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He also worked under the Biden administration at the State Department, where he works with a team of economic advisers in U.S. embassies to encourage U.S. business overseas.
He’s an alum of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas at Austin, with degrees in business, economics and computer science.
According to his LinkedIn, Syed was recruited by Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, California, in 2020 to help Silicon Valley recover from the pandemic.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.