It's back to the drawing board for the eight-year-old effort to create an SBA women's procurement program, as the most recent federal spending bill scraps controversial, restrictive Bush-era regulations.
This year's appropriations bill, which was signed March 11 and will fund government activities for the year, killed the Bush administration's frequently criticized implementation of the congressionally-mandated program. The program, designed to ease women-owned firms' access to federal contracts, would allow federal agencies to set aside contracts for these businesses. As enacted by the Bush administration, however, the program required agencies to admit to a history of discrimination before qualifying, while the number of industries in which women would be eligible for assistance was severely limited.
The federal government's official goal is to award 5 percent of federal contracts to women-owned business, but it has struggled to consistently reach that mark. In 2006, only 3.4 percent of contracts went to firms owned by women.
Margot Dorfman, CEO of the US Women's Chamber of Commerce, says that 2.6 percent of awarded contracts amounts to $5.6 billion annually. With the passage of the stimulus bill, that number stands to increase dramatically. Her organization has pushed for rules implementing the program, bringing a 2004 lawsuit against the Bush administration.
"As it was, the program would have been rendered useless," Dorfman said, pointing to the required admission of discrimination and the limited number of applicable industries.
Rep. Nydia VelÃ¡zquez (D-NY), chair of the House small business committee and the program's author, welcomed the change.
"The final outcome of this policy would have ultimately hurt female entrepreneurs," she said.
But Dorfman is concerned the program isn't a high enough priority and won't be established fast enough for women-owned firms to receive their share of the stimulus money.
"We need to get this program implemented as soon as possible—it's urgent," she said.