SBA starts contracting program for women

First contracts in the program are likely to be awarded in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year

Contracting officers can now set aside contracts for woman-owned small businesses under an interim rule issued today to amend regulations.

The Obama administration has established the Women-Owned Small Business Program, one that has taken more than a decade to start. The new rule puts it on equal footing as the other small-business set-aside programs.

A Small Business Administration official said on March 31 that the first contracts in the program are likely to be awarded in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year, which is historically when agencies award the majority of small-business contracts. The first solicitations are expected to go out before June.


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“We have been in contact with our agency colleagues and have heard many of them are teeing up opportunities,” Michele Chang, a senior adviser in SBA’s Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, said March 31 in a live Web chat with companies.

To join the new program, the SBA requires that a company be 51 percent owned by a woman, and the company must meet regulations defining a small business.

Under the program, a contracting officer must expect that two or more contractors will submit offers to go ahead with the set-aside contract, which is referred to as the Rule of Two.

The new rule gives agencies another way through which they can meet their annual small-business contracting goals. One of the goals is awarding 5 percent of their contracting money to small firms owned by women. Agencies have fallen short of the goal through the years. For fiscal 2008 and 2009, the most recent figures, agencies have remained at around 3.5 percent.

Agencies have struggled with all of their small-business goals. In 2009, the government missed the mark for contracts awarded to small businesses in the SBA's 8(a) Business Development program and other programs aiding companies owned by service-disabled veterans and businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones.

According to the Federal Register notice, administration officials estimate the rule will affect far fewer than the 56,000 woman-owned companies currently in the Central Contractor Registry. The program is open only to particular industries that women are shown to not get “their fair share” of contracts.

All new and existing contracts now are open to women, and there will be some redistribution of contracts to women. However, officials say they don’t expect agencies to put up many current small-business contracts as set-asides for women because small-business contracts help agencies reach other contracting goals, according to the notice.

About the Author

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

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