SBA Upsets Lawmakers with Contracting Plan
The Small Business Administration's new plan intended to improve contracting procedures for women-owned businesses has riled lawmakers overseeing small business issues.
The agency went through a complicated research process to deliver its outcome, which ultimately whittled down the thousands of women businesses that could be eligible for federal contracting dollars to four categories:
*National security and international affairs;
*Coating, engraving, heat treating and allied activities;
*Household and institutional furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturing; and certain
*Motor vehicle dealers.
The agency based its proposal on a study it commissioned from the RAND Corp. to determine which women-owned small businesses participating in federal contracting were underrepresented in certain industries.
Under the SBA's plan released Wednesday, a contracting officer in any federal agency could set aside contracts or work, but only within an industry in which women-owned small businesses have been identified as underrepresented. Only small businesses owned or controlled by economically disadvantaged women would be eligible for these contracts.
The SBA said in a statement: "This proposed rule provides a constitutionally-acceptable means to address the identified underrepresentation. This is progress."
But Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate panel overseeing small firms and entrepreneurs, called it "a slap in the face to women business owners."
"We've been trying for seven years to get the administration to end unfair contracting practices," he said in a Thursday statement. "By cherry picking data, they've not only done nothing to level the playing field, they've actually shut women out of the process for thousands of different types of contracts."
SBA Administrator Steven Preston is scheduled to testify before the committee next month and Kerry's statement said the senator plans to "call on the administration to throw out this rule and put forward a workable, more inclusive proposal that respects women."
Kathryn Seck, a spokeswoman for Kerry and the committee added Friday, "It is super super narrow how the [SBA] chose to interpret this rule... but in a way it's not a surprise since the administration hasn't been doing anything on the issue for seven years.. It's ridiculous."
A 2000 law called the Equity in Contracting for Women Act created the Women's Procurement Program to help women more successfully compete for government work. The SBA did not implement the program while examining it for more than five years to determine how it should work. The U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce sued the government over the SBA's lack of implementation and the court ruled that the federal government was acting unreasonably in delaying the law's enactment.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Small Business Committee, said: "This proposal would create an initiative benefiting only a tiny fraction of the businesswomen of this country. It is a sad day for the female entrepreneurs of this country when the administration will use whatever means necessary to hinder their participation in the federal marketplace."
Her committee plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month to determine whether the agency ignored congressional intent in crafting its program.
The proposed rule is open to public comment until Feb. 25, 2008. Anyone interested in weighing in on issue "3245-AF40" can go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal and follow the instructions for submitting comments.
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