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Women-Owned Businesses: Seeking Federal Procurements

May 1999

"There's no question about it: Women have made phenomenal strides in the business world in the recent past, and we are changing the face of America's economy-in very positive ways," said "Sherrye Henry, Assistant Administrator for Women's Business Ownership, at the Small Business Administration. "But there are still some bastions of inequality we have yet to surmount; one of them is the federal procurement market."

Women-Owned Businesses Get Few Federal Contracts

While women own nearly 40 percent of all U.S. businesses, women-owned firms still secure less than 2 percent of the federal prime contracts and less than 4 percent of the subcontracts. "Women can win their fair share of this $200 billion market," Henry said.

The SBA is forming alliances aimed at enabling the federal government to meet the 5 percent contracting goal for businesses owned and controlled by women that was set by the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994. The agency has negotiated memorandums of understanding with about a dozen large federal agencies to define their roles and make commitments to increase the participation of women's businesses in federal procurement. Plus, more than 20 large agencies or departments have assigned women-owned advocates to act as liaisons with the SBA and to provide outreach, training, and marketing assistance to women business owners.

Programs Can Help Women Win Their Share of Federal Market

"We are backing up these alliances with a number of programs designed to help women win their share of this large and lucrative market, such as the 8(a) Program, the new Small Disadvantaged Business Program, and, most importantly, the SBA's online procurement network, PRO-Net," Henry said.

PRO-Net puts information about women-owned firms directly in the hands of government procurement officers. PRO-Net is the largest federal procurement network; it also provides gateways to state, private and even international procurement opportunities. "The world-is moving increasingly to electronic commerce, and you begin to see how important PRO-Net is," Henry continued.

"With that in mind, we are working hard to increase the number of women-owned small businesses registered on PRO-Net. We want to make sure that those registered get called for procurement opportunities. Already a number of federal agencies use PRO-Net as their primary resource for contracts."

Tips for Registering on Pro-Net

  • Fill in all the mandatory fields on the form (otherwise, the profile will be rejected).
  • Fill in the optional fields because they may be just as important as the mandatory fields. For example, the "performance history and references section" is optional, but it provides current contract and reference information valuable to a busy contracting officer. The easier you make it for the purchasing agent, by providing a full profile, the more likely you are to get the call-and the contract," Henry advises.
  • Don't wait for purchasing agents to call you; do searches in the linked databases, including the Commerce Business Daily, for opportunities you want to bid on.

More Tips on Getting Government Business

The 8(a) Business Development Program, named for a section of the Small Business Act, has recently broadened its guidelines to include a more diverse base of disadvantaged individuals. "This is good news for many women entrepreneurs," Henry said, "since 8(a) certification offers a strong advantage in securing federal contracts, with contract set-asides, mentoring and other assistance to help ensure success."

Businesses certified in the 8(a) Program are automatically included in the Small Disadvantaged Business Program. The new SDB Program has a certification process designed to treat small companies equitably and give them an efficient first step into the federal procurement arena.

Revised federal rules will also make it easier for businesses not owned by members of minority groups to qualify as SDBs.

Once a business is certified and listed on the public registry, it is eligible for preferences, including a price evaluation adjustment of up to 10 percent for SDBs bidding as prime contractors. There are also preferences for large businesses that use SDBs as subcontractors. The preferences apply to those industries in which disadvantaged companies are underutilized.

"The Online Women's Business Center also has online procurement training, including detailed information on these programs as well as links to their web sites," Henry said. And here's important news: you can now download a new PRO-Net tutorial from the Online WBC, making it easier than ever to register!

For More Information

Small Disadvantaged Business--Applications and a list of licensed certifiers are available at SBA district offices nationwide or by calling the Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Certification and Eligibility at 800-558-0884.

8(a) Business Development--For information on the 8(a) Program or to receive an application, contact your local SBA district office. Most district offices have 8(a) orientation workshops to provide additional information regarding the eligibility requirements and to review various SBA forms.

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Related Resources

Womenís Business Center

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