A bipartisan group of United States Senators led by Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-Louisiana) were successful in adding an amendment to bolster contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 (S. 3254). The measure would eliminate a current-law restriction on the dollar amount of a contract that women-owned small businesses can compete for, putting them on a level playing field with the other federal small business socio-economic contracting programs. The federal government has consistently failed to meet its annual women's contracting goal of five percent, and this provision will assist in satisfying, if not exceeding that goal. The amendment was cosponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Scott P. Brown (R-Massachusetts), Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania).
"Simply put, women-owned small businesses have yet to receive their fair share of federal contracting dollars, and as the fastest growing segment of our economy, women-owned small businesses will play a critical role in helping our nation recover from the recent recession," the Senators said. "This inequity was the impetus behind the women's contracting program that Congress authorized on December 21, 2000, and over a decade later, the program was finally implemented by the SBA. While we applaud this Administration's efforts to finally put in place a functioning program, the unfortunate fact is that women-owned small businesses will still face a disadvantage when compared to HUBZone, 8(a), and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Our amendment will help put women-owned firms on a level playing field with these other socio-economic groups to ensure their maximum participation in the federal contracting process."
Women-owned small business advocates and leaders praised the news.
"This is a very important step toward bridging the gap for women entrepreneurs who wish to do business with the world's largest consumer - the federal government," said Barbara Kasoff, President of Women Impacting Public Policy. "We would like to thank Senator Olympia Snowe and her colleagues for their commitment to building a better partnership between government and the women-owned small business community."
"Implementing a women-owned small business procurement program but limiting the size of the awards was akin to opening the door of opportunity only part-way," said Julie R. Weeks, chair of the board of the Association of Women's Business Centers and president & CEO of Womenable. "This amendment not only will provide more opportunities for WOSB contractors, it will increase competition and provide greater value to federal agencies."
"We congratulate this bipartisan group of Senators on their leadership moving forward the first of the several modifications that are needed to improve the effectiveness of the Women's Procurement Program," said Margot Dorfman, Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce. "Removing the cap on federal contracts for women is an important first step to bring parity to the set aside programs. We hope that Congress will build on the Senators' efforts to bring the rest of the needed changes to provide fair access to federal contracts for women-owned firms."
BACKGROUND: Currently, WOSBs may only receive awards up to $5 million for manufacturing and $3 million for all other industry codes when competing for Federal contracting opportunities. The amendment removes the limit on the anticipated award amount and provides WOSBs the ability to vie for Federal contracts regardless of the contract dollar amount. Other Small Business Administration (SBA) contracting programs, such as the 8(a), Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), and HUBZone programs, allow business to receive reserved awards at any dollar amount.
The amendment also requires a study and report to be conducted every five years to update the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes in which women are considered under-represented and may therefore participate in the women-owned small business contracting program. The SBA's proposed women's rule identifies 83 industry codes in which women are identified as underrepresented and are therefore able to receive Federal contracts reserved for WOSBs in those industries.