Leveling the Federal Contracting Playing Field – The New SBA Woman-Owned Small Business Program Explained

by Caron Beesley, Moderator

Congress has set goals to help woman-owned small businesses (WOSBs) gain their share of the federal contracting market.

However, without a specific set-aside contract program for WOSBs, such as those in place for small disadvantaged businesses (e.g., the 8(a) program), service-disabled veterans and historically underutilized business zones (HUBZone), WOSBs only received 4% of the $400+ billion contracts awarded annually well shy of the 5% statutory goal.

In an effort to address this shortfall and create a more level contracting playing field for women-owned small businesses, in late 2010 the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the final rule that would implement the  WOSB program. Formally known as the Woman-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, the goals of the program were outlined by SBA Administrator, Karen Mills, in the agency’s press release:

Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy…That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important. Federal contracts can provide women-owned small businesses with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.”

While the WOSB Program was formally launched by the SBA in February 2011, it wasn’t until April 2011 that the federal procurement officials were able to set-aside contracts under the program.

So what is the WOSB Program and how can you take advantage of it? Here’s what you need to know and the steps you need to take to get your business certified to participate!

What is the WOSB Program?

The WOSB Program is a win-win for WOSBs and EDWOSBs (Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses) and the federal government.  WOSBs now have an opportunity to compete for and win contracts specifically set aside for WOSBs.

There are over 300 industries (PDF) (in the contracting world these are known as NAICS codes) where WOSBs and EDWOSBs have been deemed “underrepresented” or “substantially underrepresented”. Contracting officers can do a WOSB or EDWOSB set-aside contracts in these industries if:

  • There is reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs/EDWOSBs will submit offers.
  • The anticipated award price of the contract does not exceed $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $4 million in the case of all other contracts.
  • In the estimation of the contracting officer, the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price.

Interested bidders can look on the Federal Business Opportunities web site to find federal government solicitations that may be set aside for WOSB or EDWOSBs

Are you Eligible for WOSB/EDWOSB Set-Asides?

To help determine your eligibility for the WOSB program you’ll need to be ask yourself a few eligibility questions:

  1. Are you a small business as defined by SBA standards for your industry? – Read “Am I a small business concern?” from the SBA to determine if you are. If you are not eligible you can still consider teaming with a small business prime contractor who is.
  2. Are you a woman-owned small business (WOSB)? – Your business must beat least 51% directly or unconditionally owned by one or more women. In addition, the management and daily business operations must be controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens.
  3. Does your business function within one of the over 300 industries (known as NAICS codes) for the WOSB program?
  4. Are you an economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business (EDWOSB)? You don’t have to be to qualify for the WOSB program, although you do for the EDWOSB portion. Here are the requirements:

Be a WOSB that is at least 51% owned by one or more women who are “economically disadvantaged”.  A woman is presumed economically disadvantaged if she:

      • Has a personal net worth of less than $750,000 (please note items that may be excluded)
      • Average annual income of less than  $350,000 for the three years  (please note items that may be excluded)
      • Value of total assets is less than $6 million (please note items that may be excluded)

How to Get Certified for the WOSB Program

If you meet the eligibility requirements above, you’ll then need to either self-certify or obtain third party certification (read more about the certification process here).

To ensure you can compete for these WOSB set-aside contracts as soon as possible, take the time to review all the program requirements on the SBA website and ensure your required documents are uploaded to the WOSB Program Repository. WOSBs also will need to update their status in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and the Online Representation and Certification Application (ORCA) to indicate to contracting officers that they are eligible to participate.

Training and Education on the WOSB Program

The SBA is engaging in a number of training and outreach activities to help small business owners understand the program – contact your local SBA Office for more information. The agency has also put together this easy-to-read handbook (PDF) for small businesses interested in learning about the WOSB Program, including eligibility requirements, federal contracting opportunities, and how the program works in general. 

Additional Resources

If you are new to the government contracting market or have questions about the process, take a look at these guides and resources on the SBA website:

SBA’s Web Chat to Focus on New Contracting Program For Women-Owned Small Businesses

Are you a woman business owner seeking federal contracts? The U.S. Small Business Administration’s March web chat will focus on a new Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) federal contract program aimed at bringing more WOSBs into the federal contracting arena.  Federal contracts can provide women entrepreneurs with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.  Celebrate Women’s History Month and visit http://go.usa.gov/4BV to get information about the new contract program.

WHO:  Michele Chang, senior Advisor in the Office of Government Contracting and Business Development at the SBA, will host the March web chat on “SBA’s New Federal Contract Program for Women.” 

WHAT: SBA’s web chat series provides small business owners with an opportunity to discuss relevant business issues online with experts, industry leaders and successful entrepreneurs.  Chat participants have direct, real-time access to the web chats via questions they submit online in advance, and during the live session.  Participants will gain valuable information on how to participate in the program to gain increased access to government contracting opportunities. 

WHEN: March 31, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. (ET); Chang will answer questions for one hour.      

HOW:  Participants can join the live web chat by going online to www.sba.gov, and click on the web chat event under What’s New. Web chat participants may also post questions before the March 31st chat by visiting http://web.sba.gov/livemeeting/public/dsp_meeting_view.cfm?meetngid=2.

SBA Announces Contracting Program For Women-Owned Small Businesses

First Contracts Expected to be Awarded through WOSB Program By Critical Fourth Quarter of Fiscal Year 2011 

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WASHINGTON – Women-owned small businesses can begin taking steps to participate in a new federal contracting program on Friday, Feb. 4, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced today. The new Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program will be fully implemented over the next several months, with the first contracts expected to be awarded by the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011.

“Implementing the Women-Owned Small Business contracting rule has been a top priority for the Obama Administration and SBA,” said Administrator Karen Mills.  “Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.  As we continue to look to small businesses to grow, create jobs and lead America into the future, women-owned businesses will play a key role.  That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important.  Federal contracts can provide women-owned small businesses with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.”

The WOSB Federal Contract Program will provide greater access to federal contracting opportunities for WOSBs and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs).  The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBs.

On Feb. 4, SBA will release instructions on how to participate in the program, as well as launch the secure, online data repository for WOSBs to upload required documents, on its website: www.sba.gov/wosb.  SBA will also release an application to become an SBA-approved third party certifier for this program on that date.  This will be the first version of the application.  SBA welcomes comments and suggestions on this first version of the application.

During the ramp up period over the next several months, SBA is encouraging small business owners to review program requirements and ensure their required documents are uploaded to the repository. WOSBs also will need to update their status in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and the Online Representation and Certification Application (ORCA) to indicate to contracting officers that they are eligible to participate.  The General Services Administration is currently updating these systems and they are expected to be completed in April, 2011. 

Similarly, the WOSB rule in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which is the companion to the SBA rule, is now going through final review, and is also expected to be issued by April.  With these pieces in place, SBA expects to see the first contracts awarded through the program by the all-important fourth quarter, when the largest percent of federal contracts are awarded. 

Every firm that wishes to participate in the WOSB program must meet the eligibility requirements and either self-certify or obtain third party certification.  At this time, SBA has not approved any third party certifiers.  Regardless of their certification method, WOSBs must also upload required documents proving their eligibility to a secure online data repository developed and maintained by SBA.  

To qualify as a WOSB, a firm must be at least fifty-one percent owned and controlled by one or more women, and primarily managed by one or more women.  The women must be U.S. citizens and the firm must be considered small according to SBA size standards.  To be deemed “economically disadvantaged”, a firm’s owners must meet specific financial requirements set forth in the program regulations. 

The WOSB Program identifies eighty-three four-digit North American Industry Classification Systems (NAICS) codes where WOSBs are underrepresented or substantially underrepresented.   Contracting officers may set aside contracts in these industries if the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price, the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs or EDWOSBs will submit offers for the contract and the anticipated contract price is not greater than $5 million for manufacturing contracts and $3 million for other contracts. 

Each stage of implementation is part of SBA’s mission to make the Program efficient and user-friendly, and to ensure its benefits go only to qualifying WOSBs.  SBA is excited to launch this new program to provide WOSBs with increased opportunities to compete for and win federal contracts, ultimately helping WOSBs create and retain more jobs.

For more information on the Women-Owned Small Business Program or to access the instructions, applications or database, please visit www.sba.gov/wosb.