New rule will help women-owned businesses get more federal contracts

Marie-Sweet

Maria Sweet

By Kent Hoover, Washington Bureau Chief

Washington, DC—Federal contracting officials now have the power to award sole-source contracts to women-owned businesses, a tool that should help the government finally achieve its goal of awarding five percent of its procurement dollars to women.

Under a rule published Monday by the Small Business Administration, agencies can negotiate a contract with a single woman-owned small business without putting the work out for bid, provided there is only one woman-owned business that can perform the work. Plus, the contract must be below $4 million (or $6.5 million for manufacturers.) The rule implements a law passed by Congress in December. It becomes effective Oct. 14.

Contracting officials previously have been able to award sole-source contracts to small businesses owned by minorities, service-disabled veterans, or small companies located in low-income areas known as “hubzones.” The new rule puts the government’s contracting set-aside program for women, which was passed by Congress in 2000 but not implemented until 2011, on par with these other procurement programs.

“This parity means women entrepreneurs face fewer barriers when entering the federal market,” said Kristie Arslan, executive director of Women Impacting Public Policy.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet called the new rule “a major step forward in leveling the playing field.”

“Women-owned businesses are growing three times faster than their counterparts, yet the federal government has not achieved its goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women” Contreras-Sweet said. “If we want a more diverse supply chain, Uncle Sam needs to lead by example.”

Last year, the federal government awarded 4.7 percent of its contracting dollars to women-owned businesses, up from 4.3 percent in 2013.