The first quarter of 2016 was big for us. The Federal Government met its goal of awarding 5% of all contracts – $17.8 billion – to women-owned firms. This was only possible because of the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) procurement program which allows contracting officers to set aside contracts for women only to bid on.
In February, the FAR Council added sole source authority to the program. Now, contracting officers can use the program to award sole source contracts to women-owned businesses that are uniquely qualified to perform the work the government needs. All of the other small business procurement programs have sole source authority, so it was important to bring parity to the WOSB program.
In March, the WOSB program was expanded to include 113 industry codes. The same law that added sole source authority also called for SBA to update a study on participation in federal contracting by women-owned businesses. The last study was done in 2007. The new study found more industries where women are underrepresented and now those industries are part of the WOSB program – an expansion that will provide additional procurement opportunities.
While we have been making gains on that front, there is much more to do to open doors to federal agency contracts for women-owned companies. Never content to rest on our laurels, the WIPP policy team in Washington, DC is ready to tackle two new procurement issues.
First, we must increase access for women-owned firms to multiple-award contracts. The government increasingly buys its products/services through these ongoing contracts, like Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts, and other large contracts. Often, these contracts select vendors through an initial competitive process and then issue task orders to that group of vendors only. Some multiple-award contracts have a “track” for large businesses and a “track” for small businesses. Others, though, have different tracks within the small business track. For example, they may have a HUBZone track, an 8(a) track and a veteran’s track. In those instances, WOSBs should also have their own track. We will be asking for parity in these cases.
Second, there should be parity in sole source contract ceilings. Sole source contracts are capped – they are not unlimited. Every five years, the FAR Council adjusts the cap for inflation. In October, all the other small business programs’ caps were increased. The HUBZone program, for example, now has sole source awards capped at $4 million for most products/services and $7 million for manufacturing. Women did not get an increase — our manufacturing cap is a half a million less at $6.5 million. Again, the theme is parity. We will be pressing the FAR Council to adjust the WOSB sole source to match the increases of other programs.
WIPP’s advocacy is always in motion and in the federal contracting space, there is always much more to be done. So, join us in the effort. When talking to federal agencies or elected officials, echo our two asks. Everyone’s voice is important.