SBA proposes women-owned small-biz assistance

The Small Business Administration is proposing to implement a new
regulation aimed at providing more contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses.

In a move to push the federal government to meet a goal of awarding 5 percent of all federal prime contracts to women-owned small businesses, SBA has recommended empowering a contracting mechanism, created by legislation passed in 2000, that was never fully implemented.

The result is the proposed Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Assistance Program, which SBA's Office of Government Contracting would administer. The program will let federal contracting officers restrict competition to eligible women-owned small businesses for contracts in industries that are deemed underrepresented by such companies.

The proposed legislation also calls for SBA to conduct a study to determine where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented.

Previously, only 3 percent of all federal prime contracts in 2004 went to women-owned small businesses. The government never hit the 5 percent goal.

A General Accountability Office report from 2001 noted that federal contracting officials complained that a major obstacle they faced in achieving the 5 percent goal was a lack of a "targeted government program for contracting with women-owned small businesses," an SBA statement said.

The proposed legislation also would limit a contracting officer's authority to restrict competition to deals not exceeding $3 million, and $5 million for manufacturing.

It also calls on SBA to set up definitions and regulations to determine the eligibility of a women-owned small business and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses.

SBA will accept comments on the proposed rule through July 17.

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