July 14, 2004 -- Despite making up 30 percent of all U.S. businesses, privately-held women-owned businesses are not getting even the small slice of the federal government contract pie promised to them, according to the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce and the National Women's Lobby. And it's about time the government rectifies the situation, say the groups.

Under legislation passed more than three years ago, women-owned businesses are supposed to receive five percent of all government contracts. The lobbying groups say that this goal has never been achieved and that the government is struggling to award three percent.

The problem is that women-owned businesses are at the end of a very long pecking order of minority groups who have also been promised contracts, said Margot Dorfman, chief executive officer of the three-year-old U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce.

"The issue has been pushed under the carpet," said Dorfman, "I was told flat out by the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy that the Veteran's procurement law was much more important."

The failure to achieve the goal resulted in women-owned businesses missing out on $5.6 billion in federal contracts in 2003, according to the lobbies.

The groups are urging female business owners to contact the U.S. Small Business Administration and their congressional leaders to enact all provisions of the legislation.

"It's public law and should be enforceable," said Dorfman. "We need to work with all the powers that be to make sure it's enacted. If the government wanted to, it could."

The SBA has been slow to implement "set-asides" required by legislation passed in 2000, say the lobbies. The agency is supposed to earmark contracts for women-owned businesses in industries where they are underrepresented. The contracts are limited to $3 million for services and $5 million for manufacturing.

Women-owned businesses are an integral part of the economy. There are 10.6 million privately-held businesses that are either half or majority owned by women, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. The center estimates that these firms will generate more than $2.4 trillion in sales in 2004.