New Act Introduced in Senate to Help Women Business Owners Get More Federal Contracts

Women business owners’ access to federal contracts has long been a bone of contention. I blogged here earlier about the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) rule, proposed in March of this year, and how it would affect women’s access to federal contracts.woman business owner

Now, further change is afoot. U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have introduced the Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2010, bipartisan legislation to address deficiencies in the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) women-owned small business contracting program.

A meeting between representatives from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Sen. Snowe’s office helped spur the new bill. “We appreciate Sen. Snowe’s quick response to our concerns, and look forward to working with her to move this bill forward,” says Kelly Scanlon, NAWBO national chair-elect and part of the NAWBO team that met with Sen. Snowe’s office.

“Simply put, women-owned small businesses have yet to receive their fair share of federal contracting dollars,” says Sen. Snowe, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “As the fastest-growing segment of our economy, women-owned small businesses will play a critical role in helping our nation recover from the current recession.”

The Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2010 addresses two critical limitations of the WOSB 8(m) program’s Proposed Rule which didn’t confer sole-source award authority, and established dollar ceilings on contracts that qualify for the 8(m) program: a $5 million ceiling for manufacturing businesses and a $3 million ceiling for other goods and services.

The new Act enables government contracting officers to award federal contracts sole-source to WOSBs under similar conditions as sole source contracts are awarded to historically underutilized business zone (HUBZone) small businesses. (Contracting officers can currently award contracts without competition, under certain circumstances, to small businesses that are part of the SBA’s 8(a) program, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and HUBZone small businesses.)

The bill also removes the ceilings on the award amount so WOSBs can compete for federal contracts of any contract dollar amount, just like HUBZone, 8(a) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

“Women-owned small businesses will still face a disadvantage when compared to HUBZone, 8(a) and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses,” says Sen. Snowe. “Our legislation will help put women-owned firms on a level playing field with these other socio-economic groups to ensure their maximum participation in the federal contracting process.”

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.