SBA to launch program for women

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"A small mistake"

The Small Business Administration will begin to implement a Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Program in an effort to boost the amount of federal contracting dollars going to such businesses, according to an announcement May 25.

The agency announced its plans just as 71 members of Congress filed a brief in support of a lawsuit demanding that the program – which became law in 2000 -- be implemented.

However, SBA's planned next steps are to propose rules and conduct an industry-by-industry study to determine the industries in which woman-owned small businesses are underrepresented and substantially underrepresented. The study is required by law, according to SBA.

Some advocates of women-owned businesses say that the SBA has already had nearly five years to conduct studies. SBA officials say they are working to support women-owned small businesses.

"The SBA has been and continues to be committed to making sure that women-owned small businesses have all the possible opportunities to federal contracts," said Allegra McCullough, SBA's associate deputy administrator of government contracting and business development. "We are therefore moving

ahead to see that the contracting program for women-owned small businesses is implemented in a manner that will withstand legal scrutiny."

The U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce originally filed the lawsuit in October 2004.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, said today studies show that 40 percent of woman-owned small businesses can offer products or services that federal agencies can use, but get less than 2.9 percent of all federal contracts. The federal government's goal for women-owned small businesses is for them to obtain 5 percent of all contracts.

The businesses lose $25 billion in contracting opportunities due to the disparity, Velazquez said.

"Today, agencies are doing multibillion dollar contracts with large corporations such as Halliburton, yet out of this whole pie they are choosing to do less than 3 percent of their contracts with women business owners," said Velazquez, who described it as an "absolutely outrageous" state of affairs.

Velazquez said SBA's announcement changes nothing about the lawsuit or the congressional support for it.

"SBA has been making these types of claims for the past four years," she said. "This is actually the second time they said they were going to prepare regulations."

Velazquez blamed the Bush administration for failing to implement the program.

"Today more than ever, women continue to face a glass ceiling not only in the workplace, but now also in the federal marketplace," she said. "The administration has made no effort, and has taken no action, to actually move this program forward. Women business owners are tired of the lack of action and something clearly needs to be done."

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