Snowe urges SBA to start contracting program for women

The women contracting program has not gained its feet even nearly nine years after Congress approved it

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) continues to ask the Small Business Administration to launch a women-owned small-business program that Congress passed in 2000 and caused controversy during the George W. Bush administration.

“Now, with over nine months having passed in this new administration, I am deeply concerned that the regulations have yet to be established,” Snowe, the ranking member on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said in a letter to SBA Administrator Karen Mills.

“It is crucial that we end this injustice as soon as possible and what better time to announce an impending change than in October 2009, National Women’s Small Business Month,” Snowe wrote Oct. 19.

“In fact, women continue to be overlooked,” Snowe wrote.

Other types of small businesses have reached their goals, including companies in historically underutilized business zones and firms owned by service-disabled veterans, according to Snowe and SBA.

“Regrettably — after three congressional reports, numerous hearings, two proposed rules, one highly deficient final rule and almost a decade passing — women are still inhibited by the SBA’s failure to pass meaningful and effective regulations,” Snowe wrote.

The women-owned small-business contracting program has been controversial. Most recently, Snowe and other members of Congress were upset by the regulations produced in 2008 by the Bush administration. Officials proposed a program that would have allowed agencies to set aside contracts for women but only in four obscure fields that included kitchen cabinet-making.

Some senators and House members called the program an insult. And Congress ended any possibility of the program taking hold by prohibiting it in a fiscal 2009 spending bill.

However, Snowe did compliment Mills on a new online training course "Winning Federal Contracts — A Guide for Women Entrepreneurs" announced Oct. 14. She called the course “a noteworthy and promising educational program."

Meanwhile, as of Oct. 2, small companies had received 26 percent of the stimulus money, according to SBA. But Snowe wrote that the women-owned companies are the only category of small businesses that has not reached its contracting goals with stimulus money. Women-owned small businesses are a percentage point below its 5 percent goal, according to SBA.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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