August 29, 2005--Surpassing its statutory requirements, the federal government awarded a record-high $69.23 billion in contracts to small businesses last year, according to a Federal Procurement Data Center report.

Even as the level of contracts awarded hits record levels, a report released last September noted that the government failed to provide small businesses with 23% of its contracts for the fourth year in a row. The next report is due out next month.

The FPDC data, released Thursday, showed a 6% rise in prime contracting for small businesses from the previous year, falling short of the 23% claimed absent by the House Democratic Small Business Committee, which produced last September's reprot.

In 2004, total federal prime contracting came to $299.9 billion, the bulk of which was awarded by the Department of Defense, according to the FPDC.

Of some $210.7 billion in total defense contracts, small businesses were awarded $46.9 billion, or just over 22% last year.

Raul Cisneros, an associate administrator at the Small Business Association, said the gains were shared by a variety of small businesses in every industry.

"It runs the whole gamut," said Cisneros, referring to the types of contracts awarded. "What we're seeing is small businesses in all industries getting more contracts than ever before," Cisneros said. "It means there's a whole lot of small businesses out there doing great work for the government."

According to the report, small businesses in economically distressed communities got a 40% boost over the previous year, receiving $4.78 billion in contracts.

Small disadvantaged businesses also got $18.54 billion, or 6.18%, of total contracts, while women-owned businesses got $9.1 billion, an increase of some $814.6 million over 2003.

Cisneros credited the gains to government efforts to spread more contracts across every sector of the economy.