Despite lofty goals and high-profile initiatives, the federal government is reportedly awarding fewer and fewer contracts to women-owned businesses.

The number of federal contracts awarded to women-owned businesses dropped to about $16.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, down 5.5 percent from $17.3 billion in fiscal 2011, reported Bloomberg. Awards to men-owned small firms declined also, but only by 4.1 percent to $80.9 billion. 

Women-owned businesses captured about 3.2 percent of the total eligible contracts, according to federal procurement data.

The widening gender gap is striking, given that the SBA put in place a program to boost contracts to women-owned small businesses in 2011, and even the federal government said it wanted to increase the number of contracts to women by 5 percent.

“Women-owned small businesses are at the very bottom of the food chain,” said Jeanne Peck, chief executive officer of Nash Locke LLC, an information technology company based in McLean, Virginia, to Bloomberg News. “They often have to fight for the scraps of subcontracts.” 

When compared to all privately held firms, women-owned businesses employ 14 percent of the workforce and account for 11 percent of all business revenue, according to the 2012 American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Business Report