SBA to focus on women’s centers
Lawmakers are frustrated by SBA’s lack of progress in meeting 5 percent goal
- By Matthew Weigelt
- Sep 29, 2007
Small Business Administration officials say they intend to improve programs for helping women who own small businesses to win more federal contracts. Agencies awarded only 3.2 percent of federal contracting dollars to woman-owned small businesses in fiscal 2005.
Anoop Prakash, associate administrator of SBAs Office of Entrepreneurial Development, said that in the next two months, SBA will rewrite its announcements about programs that give financial support to womens business centers. SBA will publish the new announcements and give business centers 30 days to apply for SBA funding.
SBAs woman-owned small-business program supports womens business centers, which help women who own small businesses learn about available federal contracts and meet people in the federal contracting community. Last year, more than 129,000 woman-owned small business received assistance from the 98 centers that SBA supports, agency officials said.
Prakash also said SBA must speed its process of reviewing applications from woman-owned small businesses. Give us 30 days, lock people in a room, have them read every application and score it there on the spot, he said, suggesting the urgent necessity of improving SBAs track record. Prakash testified to members of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Sept. 20.
Lawmakers said SBA needs to pay more attention to its woman-owned small-business programs. For instance, in 2005, agencies ended up nearly 2 percent short of a mandatory goal of awarding 5 percent of prime contracting dollars to woman-owned small businesses.
Specifically, agencies sent those businesses $10.2 billion out of
$320 billion for which small businesses were eligible.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committees chairman, said too much emphasis on bureaucratic red tape has reduced the effectiveness of SBAs womens business centers.
SBA compounds problems by making late grants payments, said Debra Ritt, the agencys assistant inspector general for auditing. Ritt said poor coordination and a lack of communication between the agencys offices contribute to the delayed payments.
Those delays and other problems display a complacency or a disregard for the value of those programs and women entrepreneurs, said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), ranking member of the committee. Theres just a general feeling that theres a disconnect between SBA and womens business centers.
SBA said inadequate funding from Congress is partly to blame for problems in the agencys woman-owned small-business programs. SBA received about $12 million in fiscal 2007 and made awards to womens business centers in amounts ranging from $90,000 to $150,000, according to the Government Accountability Office. But until SBA is funded for 2008, officials said, they cant disburse additional grant money. By law, SBA cant make any awards ahead of a programs funding.
Congress has failed so far this year to pass any appropriations bills, which leaves SBA in limbo. In years past, the agency received varied amounts of funding for the woman-owned small-business program. This year, SBA officials, said they will wait until they know for certain how much money the agency will receive before they inform the womens business centers about available grant money.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.