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Credit: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee, freedigitalphotos.net

Congress has passed legislation that will address an inequity women business owners have uniquely grappled with in the federal contracting marketplace.

An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act went through late last year which will allow women business owners to receive government contracting money through sole-source authority, or no-bid contracts. Essentially, a contracting officer can now award a contract to a qualifying female entrepreneur without the need to have other bids on the table.

Says Kristie Arslan, the executive director of Women Impacting Public Policy, “It typically was not the contracting officers doing the work [to find other bids], but rather, the business owner herself,” resulting in fewer female entrepreneurs receiving this type of funding, and a longer, more difficult process overall.

It’s a real coup for the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, especially since it was the only program of its kind that could not benefit from sole-source authority before this legislation passed.

Now that the House and Senate have passed the law, the Small Business Administration has to act — in order for women business owners to benefit, the SBA must first formally create the rule, then put it through an approval process that includes allowing for public commentary. Arslan is optimistic that the rule will be enacted before the end of 2015, though, since SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet has pledged to move as swiftly as possible on the matter.

And there are some caveats, Arslan says. “One qualification is that a business must be certified as a women-owned small business in order to be awarded a sole-source contract, either through self-certification, or through a third-party certifier like [the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council].” Caps have also been placed on the amount of money that can be awarded.

Still, this development could bring with it the realization of a long-standing goal for WIPP — having at least 5 percent of federal contracting money awarded to female entrepreneurs. The SBA’s 2013 Small Business Procurement Scorecard showed that, of the $83.1 billion spent on small businesses in all that year, 4.32 percent of that lump sum was awarded to women-owned small businesses.

In addition to paving the way for sole-source authority, the passed amendment to the NDAA will expedite a disparity study that examined industries that were not serving women in the federal contracting marketplace. The study was originally on the path for completion in 2017. Now, it could be finished by the end of this year.

Says Arslan, “We’re really pleased. This [amendment] will help get more contracts into the hands of more women business owners.”

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