May 27, 2005--In an effort to show its dedication to helping women-owned businesses, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced yesterday that it will begin a two-stepped implementation of the Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Program.

An amendment to the Small Business Act passed in 2000, the program sets aside contracts for competition by women-owned small businesses (WOSB).

To begin, the SBA will set eligibility requirements, followed by an industry-by-industry study to identify those areas where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented.

The anticipated study in this initiative will be the third the SBA will have used in evaluating how to carry out government procurement legislation in favor of WOSBs.

"The SBA has been and continues to be committed to making sure that women-owned small businesses have all the possible opportunities to federal contracts," said Allegra McCullough, associate deputy administrator for Government Contracting and Business Development. "We are therefore moving ahead to see that the contracting program for women-owned small businesses is implemented in a manner that will withstand legal scrutiny."

Lobbyists for women-owned businesses have argued in the past that the SBA could do more to help women. In October 2004, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce sued the SBA for allegedly not fulfilling the goals set by the original legislation in 2000 to increase the amount of federal contracts awarded to women up to 5%.Only about 3% currently go to women, according to the National Women's Business Council.

The SBA noted that prime contracting dollars awarded to WOSBs increased by $1.5 billion from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2003, jumping from $6.8 billion to $8.3 billion, and loans to women-owned businesses increased 49% in 2004 over the previous year, said spokesman Raul Cisneros. "The SBA is working hard in many areas in addition to government contracting to provide tools to help women-owned businesses," Cisneros said.