By: Edward T. DeLisle & Maria L. Panichelli

Last year, after over a decade of discussion, the Small Business Administration (SBA) finally implemented a federal contracting program specifically designed to assist small businesses owned by women. This program authorizes contracting officers to set aside federal contracts for eligible WOSBs (woman-owned small businesses) and EDWOSBs (economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses). As we previously discussed, this program became officially effective on February 4, 2011 and was scheduled for gradual implementation over a period of months. It was expected to assist federal agencies in achieving the previously existing statutory procurement goal of awarding five percent (5%) of federal contracting dollars to WOSBs.

A year after going into affect, it is clear that the program is off to a slow start. Only about 10,000 WOSBs have been self-certified via the WOSB Program Repository, though there are certainly many more businesses out there that meet the eligibility criteria. If you are one of those businesses, you could be missing out on huge opportunities. As such, it is important for you to determine whether you meet the eligibility criteria for participation in the program.

What are those criteria, you ask? As a threshold matter, the business must be considered “small” in its primary industry in accordance with SBA’s size standards for that industry. In addition, to be considered an eligible WOSB or EDWOSB, a firm must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women, or economically disadvantaged women. 13 C.F.R. 127.200. “Ownership” must be direct; it cannot be through an affiliate or association with others. 13 C.F.R. 127.201. The SBA defines “control” as a situation where the business owner has long-term decision-making and the day-to-day, full-time management and administration responsibilities for business operations. 13 C.F.R. 127.202.

In order to avoid abuse of the program by companies not truly owned and controlled by women, the SBA has enacted additional safeguards. Specifically, the woman owners must have managerial experience of the extent and complexity needed to run the company. The woman manager need not have the technical expertise or possess a required license (if applicable), if she can demonstrate that she has ultimate managerial and supervisory control over those who possess the required licenses or technical expertise. However, the SBA has stated that if a man possesses the required license and has an equity interest in the firm, he may be found to control the concern. 13 C.F.R. 127.202.

For those businesses that meet the requirements above, the WOSB and EDWOSB programs offer huge advantages. Five percent of all federal spending is the procurement goal for WOSB/EDWOSBs, and there is also a five percent subcontracting goal to WOSBs. With only about 10,000 businesses out there registered to compete, your chances of securing a government contract are vastly improved if you and eligible and participate in the program. In addition, there is no term limit to the WOSB and EDWOSB programs, and mentor-protégé programs are available.

In short, if you meet the program requirements, you should get registered for participation in the program as soon as possible. In the alternative, if you are thinking of starting a business that might be eligible, don’t wait! The SBA has not set forth a minimum amount of time the firm must be in business; therefore, a woman may establish a business, meet the requirements, self-certify, and win a government contract under this program in a short period of time.

Once you have determined that your business is eligible, registration in the program is rather easy. First, in preparation for registration/certification, businesses should become familiar with the WOSB Program’s Compliance Guide. The next step is to register the business in the Central Contracting Registry (CCR) or in the System for Award Management (SAM) (the government’s new registration system previously discussed here), once it is implemented. Then, log onto the SBA’s General Login System (GLS), and access the WOSB Program repository. Upload/categorize all required documents (a complete list of required documents can be found in the WOSB Program’s Compliance Guide). Then, complete the applicable certification form(s) available on the SBA website and register the business’s status as either a WOSB or EDWOSB, through either the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA), or SAM. Lastly, get out there and start bidding!

Edward T. DeLisle is a Partner in the firm and a member of the Federal Contracting Practice Group. Maria L. Panichelli is an Associate in the firm’s Federal Practice Group.