Allen Urges "Level Playing Field" for Women Owned Business Vying for Federal Contracts
Chairs Field Hearing in Virginia to Review Federal Procurement Policies
In a legislative field hearing on the campus of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Senator George Allen (R-VA) today heard the struggles women-owned businesses face in landing lucrative contracts with the federal government. Chairing the hearing of the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Senator Allen welcomed five successful Virginia women who operate their own businesses as representing "the spirit of free enterprise and the best of Virginia and indeed America."
In addition to the five women-owned business leaders who testified today, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. General Services Administration recounted federal efforts to increase the number of women owned business that are awarded billions in federal contracts each year. But according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, the actual number is not reaching the 5 percent goal as originally created by Congress in the 1994 Federal Acquisition and streamlining Act (PL 103-355 FASA) and modified in the Equity in Women's Contracting Act passed by Congress in 2000. Senator Allen says the purpose of today's unique field hearing was to "determine which positive, constructive and appropriate actions we should advance and to gain a better understanding of the experience of women-owned businesses in dealing with the federal government."
According to panelists, Virginia women owned businesses (WOB) are doing better in winning federal contracts than other States. According to the SBA, there are 150,000 such businesses in the Commonwealth representing a 19-20 percent increase in recent years. Those WOBs procured more than 1.6 billion dollars in 2005. Still, Senator Allen questioned whether delays in implementing the program and lack of enforcement of contracting requirements by agencies are being sufficiently addressed in order to "level the playing field. "
"As a former governor who often said 'Virginia is open for business' my philosophy is to trust free people and free enterprise," Senator said to the panelists and audience. "To fulfill this principle, we must ensure that the marketplace is indeed free, fair and open. We need to make sure that it is free from any past vestiges of discrimination or lack of business opportunity and that the competitive playing field is open to all."
One of the women who testified today was Marion Bonhomme-Knox, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who now owns and operates Knowledge Connections. She urged Congress to approve legislation for affordable health care for small businesses by allowing companies to "pool" together to purchase policies. This morning at a speech to the Latino Coalition, Senator Allen strongly reaffirmed his support of such a policy stating that, "We should eliminate any barriers that prevent small businesses from pooling together to purchase health insurance - and that's why I am a strong supporter of The Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, which will provide a mechanism for small businesses to increase their bargaining power, and lower the cost of insurance for their workers."
In addition, Senator Allen told today's hearing that WOBs are part of small businesses which are the "drivers of our economy." "I am particularly pleased that the tax burden has also been reduced on 25-million small businesses and those reductions mean that these businesses are able to reinvest that money, update equipment, or hire personnel and talent for their companies," said Senator Allen.
Today's hearing was an opportunity for the business owners to share their experiences with federal agencies responsible for contracting policy. The testimony will also be used by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee chaired by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to put forward any potential legislative solutions to the challenges faced by the women-owned businesses.
"Today's hearing gives us all some practical, common sense and reasonable recommendations for action and I trust that we will be taking a serious look at these concerns to help women compete and succeed as entrepreneurs and business owners," said Senator Allen.