The SBA Woman-Owned Small Business Program

By Ariana Billingsley, PTAC Counselor at East Carolina University

Woman-owned small businesses may soon be eligible for sole-source federal contracts if the current 2015 NDAA is approved by the U.S. Senate. Currently, contracting officers are unable to award sole-source contracts through the WOSB program. All other major small business contracting programs (8(a), HUBZone and SBVOSB) have this ability – and this change could fix that inequity.

The road to the WOSB program we know today has been long and hard. The first aspects of the program emerged in 1979 with Executive Order 12138, which stated that “each department and agency shall take affirmative action in support of women’s business enterprise, to include providing:

  • Management, technical, financial, and procurement assistance
  • Business-related education, training, counseling and information dissemination
  • Contract opportunities “

Fifteen years later, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 established a 5% government-wide goal for contract and subcontract awards to WOSB for each fiscal year.

On December 21, 2000, Congress enacted the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 2000. Section 811 of that Act added a new section, 8(m), authorizing Federal contracting officers to restrict competition to eligible Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) or Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSBs) for Federal contracts in certain industries. The purpose of this authority, referred to as the WOSB Program, was to enable contracting officers to identify and establish a sheltered market for competition among WOSBs or EDWOSBs for the provision of goods and services to the Federal Government. It would be another 10 years, October 2010, before the SBA would issue a final rule for the implementation of the program.

The WOSB program went live in February 2011. As a result, contracting officers may now set-aside contracts for EDWOSBs or WOSBS under the program if: (1) there is a reasonable expectation that, in industries in where WOSBs are underrepresented, two or more EDWOSBs will submit offers for the contract or, in industries where WOSBs are substantially underrepresented, two or more WOSBs will submit offers for the contract; and (2) in the estimation of the contracting officer, the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price.

Originally, when the program went live in 2011, contracting officers could only set-aside a requirement under the WOSB program if the anticipated award price of the contract did not exceed $5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $3 million in the case of all other contracts. In 2012, SBA amended its regulations to adjust these statutory thresholds for inflation, so the anticipated award prices of the contract awarded under the WOSB Program were increased to $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $4 million in the case of all other contracts. Even with this adjustment for inflation, these dollar value restrictions on awards under the program limited a contracting officer’s ability to set-aside contracts for WOSBs or EDWOSBs. As a result, Section 1697 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Public Law 112–239, amended the Small Business Act and removed these dollar value limitations.

Earlier this year the House passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. While NDAA always bring some changes, this particular one may represent an important milestone for women owned small business. Included in the 2015 NDAA is an amendment authorizing Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSB) to receive sole source contracts. If the Senate agrees to the House amendment, and the President signs the bill into law, WOSBs could begin receiving sole source contracts in the not-too-distant future.

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