Senators Push for More Transparency in Procurement Plan

The top senators on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee yesterday sent a letter (pdf) to the Small Business Administration requesting that the agency extend the comment period and publish data relating to a rule that would implement a procurement program for women-owned businesses.

Panel Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and its top Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) asked that comments remain open until Jan. 30, 2009.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 1, says that women-owned businesses in 31 out of 140 industries studied can compete for set-aside federal contracts. It also requires that each government agency evaluate whether or not it has discriminated against women-owned businesses in the past before it is allowed to participate in the program.

Senators Snowe and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) last month sent a letter to the SBA signed by all female lawmakers that objected to the proposed rule, saying it would require individual federal agencies "to publicly admit to a history of gender discrimination, which is extremely unlikely."

The SBA requested public comment on its final rule, but the senators say it has failed to publish key, underlying new data, making it difficult to analyze the rule and advocate for change.

"More time is needed to ensure every interested party has a chance to voice their concerns about the way the SBA is attempting to implement this vital program," said Kerry. "Eight years ago, when Congress passed this law, our intent was to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Instead, the administration has undermined the program and given us a ruling that creates more roadblocks, doing nothing to make it easier for women to compete."

"The SBA's final rule will potentially only assist a handful of women-owned firms,"said Snowe. "Given our precarious economy, this is not the time to limit the participation of one of our nation's fastest growing business industries. Women entrepreneurs deserve a final contracting rule that will actually help them receive their fair share of business with the government."

Women-owned firms account for about 30 percent of all businesses, but they receive only about 3.4 percent of federal contracts.

By Sharon McLoone |  October 31, 2008; 1:09 PM ET Gov't Contracting
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