From CAPITAL BUSINESS
By Danielle Douglas
Monday, February 7, 2011
Despite winning federal contracts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
and State Department, Kathleen M. Benson, president of Office Remedies
in Herndon, still struggles to obtain agency business for her research
"If there are companies that are larger but still have the small
business certification, they have a competitive advantage because they
have more resources," she said.
In a highly competitive space dominated by large companies, women-owned
small businesses like Benson's can have a hard time getting a foot in
As a remedy, the Small Business Administration implemented a
new rule to set aside government contracts for women-owned small
businesses in 83 industries.
Since it was introduced last October,
dozens of organizations have held symposiums to parse through the
program. With the guidelines released last Friday, there will be many
more workshops in the coming weeks, including one hosted by the Fairfax
County Economic Development Authority on Feb. 23.
The fervor surrounding the new program is palpable, especially since it took more than 15 years and a lawsuit
to launch. Advocates see the program as a way for the federal
government to finally meet its goal of awarding 5 percent of contracting
dollars to women-owned small businesses, which it has never achieved.
"This is going to benefit a good percentage of women," said Ana Recio
Harvey, the SBA's assistant administrator for women's business
Eligibility is contingent upon being 51 percent owned and controlled by
women, having citizenship and meeting SBA size standards. Women-owned
small businesses can upload documentation, such as tax returns or
articles of incorporation, to self-certify or use an SBA-approved third
Companies must also update their status on two contracting systems that
should be ready by April.
Around the same time, the SBA hopes to have a
companion rule, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, in place. Once that
is completed, the agency anticipates the first awards will roll out in
the fourth quarter.
"This opens doors, but it's up to contracting officers on the buying
side and women business owners on the vendors' side to really use the
program," said Judy Bradt, chief executive of the contract consulting
firm Summit Insight.
Having obtained certification as a small and disadvantaged business,
Jennifer D. Collins, president of the Event Planning Group in Bethesda,
considers herself well versed on the set-aside process. She is eager to
take advantage of the new program, but questions what impact the
shrinking federal budget will have.
"Agencies are working with less than they have before," she said. "There
is always a discussion about how something is going to be competed; I
just hope in that discussion there is going to be consideration for the
Some advocates have bristled at the size of the contracts, which are
worth no more than $3 million for services and $5 million for
manufacturing, while others take issue with the number of industries
included in the program.
"There are still quite a few women-owned businesses that have been left
out," said Margot Dorfman, chief executive of the U.S. Women's Chamber
of Commerce. "Any opportunities that women have to access contracts is a
good thing . . . but this [program] has a ways to go."
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