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women getting federal contracts

Soon, it may be harder for women-owned businesses to win federal contracts.

A Small Business Administration proposed rule, which was first published in the Federal Register last December, would limit the number of federal contracts set aside for women-owned businesses to four industries that are shown to be underrepresented by women. The four are: national security and international affairs; coating, engraving, heat treating and allied activities; household and institutional furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturing; and motor vehicle dealers.

Under current rules, all women-owned businesses are eligible to vie for federal contract set-asides. SBA recently sent a final draft of the rule to the Office of Management and Budget, and the contents won’t be officially released until October, according to an article in the New York Times. Federal agencies are supposed to give 5% of all federal contracts to women-owned businesses, but have not yet come close to meeting that goal, according to a news release from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

Some Democratic lawmakers are trying to block the rule. A short provision added to the fiscal 2009 appropriations bill would prohibit the SBA from enacting such a rule. The bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 10. It’s unknown whether the provision will be included in the final bill passed by Congress, however.

Several conservative groups have backed the SBA’s proposal, saying set-asides should only be given in industries where there is documented under-representation of women business owners. Several Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, who is chair of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, and women advocacy groups ardently oppose the rule. They say women-owned businesses have a hard enough time winning federal contracts. This will make it all the harder.


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