How Uncle Sam Overlooks Women Entrepreneurs

How Uncle Sam Overlooks Women Entrepreneurs

How Uncle Sam Overlooks Women Entrepreneurs

From Rieva Lesonsky:

We’ve come a long way, baby. Haven’t we? The short answer to that now almost proverbial question is “no.” Back in 1994 Congress established a goal that 5 percent of all federal contracts should go to women-owned…

How Uncle Sam Overlooks Women Entrepreneurs

June 1, 2012

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We’ve come a long way, baby. Haven’t we?

The short answer to that now almost proverbial question is “no.” Back in 1994 Congress established a goal that 5 percent of all federal contracts should go to women-owned businesses. Sounds good, right? But since 1994, the federal government has never once surpassed—or even met—that 5 percent procurement goal.

Obtaining federal government contracts can be the defining moment in a small-business owner’s career. It can make the difference between staying stuck in the status quo and taking a huge leap forward. In my career working with small-business owners, I’ve met many women entrepreneurs whose businesses grew exponentially after landing Uncle Sam as a client.

Limiting Access

Gaining access to government contracts, which has never been easy for any small business, seems to have become even more difficult in the past few years. A recent report by American Express OPEN’s Victory in Procurement (VIP) program, Women and Minority Small Business Contractors: Divergent Paths to Equal Success, found that in the past year, small-business owners’ bidding activity and success rates have dwindled. That activity has declined even more significantly than the average for women-owned companies.

Partly in response to these difficulties, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC) is launching a new campaign, “Breakthrough,” to help women business owners access their fair share of federal contracting opportunities. The USWCC contends that the failure of the federal government to meet its own contracting criteria has cost women-owned businesses some $90 billion in opportunities between fiscal year 1995 and 2010.

What is the USWCC asking for?

  • Passage of HR 4203, the Women’s Procurement Program Improvement Act of 2012, which will refine the restricted competition program in ways that make the program more effective and simpler for federal government contracting officers to use.
  • Every federal contracting officer in the U.S. to complete a Web-based training session on the use and effective implementation of the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program.
  • Every buying center to meet or beat its goals for contracting with women-owned small businesses.
  • The SBA to prepare and make publicly available more detailed reporting on women-owned federal contracting (and small-business federal contracting in general).

Raising the Bar

Ultimately, the USWCC’s goal is to raise the federal government’s goal for purchasing from women-owned firms from 5 percent to 10 percent, more accurately reflecting women-owned businesses’ role in the U.S. economy. But the USWCC’s initiatives aren’t focused solely on women-owned businesses. The organization also wants to raise the goal for purchasing from small businesses from 23 percent to 35 percent. (While percentages have improved, the SBA’s most recent Small Business Procurement Scorecard shows that in 2010, the federal government still fell short of its 23 percent goal.)

Whether you’re a woman business owner, know a woman entrepreneur or are simply an owner who wants to make access to federal prime contracts fairer and more equitable for all small businesses, you should learn more about this campaign. To find out how you can get involved in the Breakthrough campaign, visit the USWCC’s Breakthrough page and check out the links.

Have you bid for a federal contract, and if so, what was your experience?

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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