A plan meant to boost federal contracting for women small-businesses owners will actually limit their procurement opportunities and should be rewritten, Senate small-business advocates said this week.

Under the plan, which was under review for seven years, federal agencies would be allowed to set aside government contracts for women-owned small-businesses in four of 140 industry categories identified as underrepresented by women.

At a hearing on Wednesday, members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship called that approach far too restrictive.

"The SBA made an unnecessarily cautious and narrow choice on its rule and failed to achieve the public policy goal that Congress clearly intended," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). "The SBA has failed the hundreds of thousands of women-owned small businesses that are ready and able to do business with the federal government and that failure troubles me a great deal," Levin said.

Women-owned small-businesses currently recieve about 3.4 percent of annual federal contracting dollars, below a legislated government-wide target of 5 percent. The shortfall has cost these firms an estimated $6 billion in lost revenue over the past seven years.