Clinton order boosts women's businesses

President Clinton signed an executive order last week ordering agencies to meet specific goals in awarding contracts to small businesses owned by women, but the mandate alone may not encourage compliance, according to federal information technology experts.

Clinton's executive order reconfirms the governmentwide goals established last year by the Office of Management and Budget requiring agencies to award 5 percent of all their contracts to woman-owned small businesses. The order also calls for developing a new governmentwide World Wide Web site to provide procurement information about woman-owned small businesses and for developing an e-commerce database in which small businesses can register and list their capabilities as potential contractors.

The order requires agencies to develop plans for how they will meet the goal and to designate a senior acquisition official to promote awarding contracts to woman-owned businesses, among other requirements (see related story). "The executive order provides the federal agencies with a clear action plan for meeting and exceeding the statutory 5 percent goal," said Kay Koplovitz, chairwoman of the National Women's Business Council.

But the action plan does not provide incentives to meet the goal, and the order does not threaten agencies with penalties for not meeting the goal, said Valerie Perlowitz, president and CEO of Reliable Integration Services Inc. and chairwoman of the Industry Advisory Council's small-, minority- and woman-owned business committee.

"Outreach is fine and good, but there's still no teeth in it," Perlowitz said. "I applaud the effort, but in 1996 the goal was 5 percent, and we're lucky if we're at 2 percent four years later. Until there's a contracting vehicle for agencies to find woman-owned small businesses, it's just pushing more paper around."

"It should give agencies the extra push that's needed to assist us in meeting our goals," said James Ballentine, associate deputy administrator for government contracting and minority enterprise development at SBA. "And those that don't meet the 5 percent goal in a given year must have a plan in place, which they should have already, to help them forecast what they need to change and where they need to go to meet their goals."

The executive order also includes additional responsibilities for the Small Business Administration to ensure agencies meet the 5 percent goal. SBA will establish an office and Web site to promote procurement opportunities from woman- owned businesses, according to the order. SBA also will develop an interactive database containing information about procurement opportunities and woman-owned businesses.

"There has to be a pool of woman-owned small businesses that represent a low risk to the federal agencies," said Chip Mather, principal at Acquisition Solutions Inc., adding that the Commerce Department's Commerce Information Technology Solutions program is a good example of a project that has that pool.

Mather said federal agencies are driven by a company's proven track record and that the government must want to do business with a woman-owned business based on the company's merits, not because the agency has been forced to do so. "Agencies must want to use a company because they do good work, and isn't it fortuitous that they would also get credit if it's a woman-owned small business," he said. "It can't be the other way around or it won't work."

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a resolution, sponsored by Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.), urging Clinton to adopt a policy encouraging agencies to meet the 5 percent goal the same day Clinton issued the executive order. "Basically, [the resolution and executive order] say the same thing because this is a directive that's already there in the law, and federal agencies have failed to follow the intent of Congress," said Craig Orfield, communications director for the Senate Small Business Committee, of which Bond is the chairman.

The number of woman-owned small businesses is expanding rapidly in the United States. The Senate Small Business Committee estimates that woman-owned businesses will make up 50 percent of all businesses by 2010.

MORE INFO

"Funneling federal business to women"[FCW.com, May 25, 2000]

"Clinton boosts women-owned biz" [FCW.com, May 25, 2000]

"OMB sets goals for small-business contracting" [Federal Computer Week, Oct. 8, 1999]

"Skepticism greets GSA small-biz plan" [Federal Computer Week, Jan. 11,1999]

"GSA looks to funnel IT work to small businesses" [FCW.com, Jan. 5, 1999]

The president's executive order

Small Business Administration

WomenBiz.gov

BY Dan Caterinicchia and Natasha Haubold
May 29, 2000

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