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We Did It


By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations

 WIPP Works In Washington

December 2014


It was against all odds that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a vitally important improvement to the WOSB procurement program - sole source authority.   Yes, you read it right - the WOSB program will now have parity with every other small business procurement program. 

 

The law wasn't written that way back in the year 2000, but through WIPP's persistence for 14 years, we finally have a program that is sustainable.  First, of course, we had to get the program put into place.  If you recall, SBA delayed implementation for 11 years.  Then we went about changing the underlying law that was flawed.  First, we advocated for the removal of the dollar caps on the program--the original law limited contracts under this program to $5 million, rendering the program largely ineffective.  Since the caps on awards through this program were removed, the program has tripled in size. 

 

But, in our view, removing the dollar caps was not enough to make this program work.  The original law only permits contracts to be set-aside for women owned companies if the business is owned and controlled by women and two or more women owned companies will submit offers.  Meanwhile, every other small business procurement program allows contracts up to $4 million (or $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing) to be directly awarded to one firm.  That is a critical tool used by the federal government to award contracts to minorities, veterans and HUBZone firms to access the federal market.

 

Now that I have explained the long road toward making the WOSB procurement program work, we have a few things left to do.  First, agencies (in this case the SBA) have to promulgate rules to implement the law passed by Congress.  The SBA did this for the removal of dollar caps in six months, which is lightening speed for an agency.  Second, the FAR Council, which oversees contracting rules, has to approve the changes.  That takes additional time.  Third, all the contracting officers and small business offices in the government need to understand the change and start using it.

 

It is a long process, but not as long as we have been working on making this program successful.  And we certainly did not do this alone.  To thank everyone that deserves thanks would require pages but here are some special shout-outs.  If you ever responded to a WIPP Call to Action or ever wrote a letter to your elected officials on the WOSB program--THANK YOU, you made a difference.  To the fifteen organizations that supported WIPP on this effort--THANK YOU. If you attended the hearing during WIPP's annual leadership conference, you played a big part--THANK YOU.  Special thanks go to those on Capitol Hill who shepherded this program through the Congressional system- Senators Cantwell, Shaheen, Landrieu and Representatives Speier and Graves.  The staffs of the Senate and House Small Business Committee were instrumental in this success.  The SBA Administrators Mills and Contreras-Sweet made the success of this program a top priority and we will never forget their contribution.  Speaking of staff members, the dedicated SBA employees on the Government Contracting team and in the General Counsel's office deserve our gratitude.  The WIPP team and WIPP's board members have been solidly behind these successes devoting endless hours on these issues, ensuring that Congress heard directly from business leaders.  Lastly I am really proud of my team's efforts.  As I am sure you are aware, there has been very few votes in this Congress this year--this effort was particularly difficult and fraught with many twists and turns.

 

But in the end--WE WON--WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS WON.  Now, for the first time in history, let's make sure the federal government meets its goal of 5% with women owned firms. 


It is a huge accomplishment to have a woman CEO named by Lockheed Martin. When the commitment to women comes from the top, change occurs and that is particularly true for our women entrepreneurs. Becoming CEO was a natural progression for Marillyn Hewson. Since joining the firm in 1983 she led one of Lockheed's most profitable units and accounted for more revenue than many Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Hewson has a reputation of listening to Lockheed Martins' marketplace, the customer and the suppliers.

 

WIPP is poised, through its members and friends, to deliver messages to her that there are legions of qualified businesses owned and run by woemn that are capable of supporting Lockheed Martin's stability and growth projections in the federal marketplace.

 

The tipping point for women in federal contracting is now. Through WIPP's partnership with the SBA to help women secure federal contracts under the WOSB program, WIPP is hopeful that the government-wide goal of awarding 5% of federal contracts to WOSBs is met. There are a plethora of free resources when it comes to doing business with the government, including programs like WIPP's Give Me 5, an initiative and website for women-owned businesses seeking federal contracts created jointly by WIPP and American Express OPEN.

 

In addition to Ms. Hewson in the CEO office at Lockheed Martin, both Boeing and Northrop Grumman are advancing women into executive positions.

 

No, Congress has not averted the fiscal cliff (yet). But for women-owned businesses, yesterday's work represents a major victory more than a decade in the making. In fact, this story is nothing short of a miracle.

 

The miracle (in case you could not wait until the end): a proposal to remove award limits in the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program is included in the annual Defense authorization bill. More specifically, an amendment to the bill, sponsored by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), was officially added late Monday afternoon.

 

The provision removes the current caps on WOSB contracts, barriers to successful procurement. That headline, more details, and a great quote from WIPP President Barbara Kasoff can be found in the press release here.

 

But to really appreciate this win, this miracle even, it is important to know more of the story...

 

It all began more twelve years ago, when the women business community began advocating for a contracting program for women-owned businesses. This was in response to the consistent failure of the government to meet the Congressionally set goal of awarding 5% of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned businesses(yes, that is where the "5" in the Give Me 5 program comes from).

 

A little later, eleven years later that is, that program came to fruition. In February 2011, the federal government initiated WOSB set-asides and the WOSB Federal Contract Program was born. (It is important to note, however, that even with the program the government has still consistently failed to meet the 5% goal acrosall agencies.)

 

The program, however, came with a caveat; there were caps on the contracts that could be included in the set-aside program. In other words, women-owned business procurement efforts had come a very long way--but it certainly was not complete. And, despite tireless efforts by many women-business advocates in both the House and Senate, when Congress recessed in September of this year for the elections it appeared that is would stay that way.

 

Enter a new, but major character: the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2013. As far as annual authorization bills go, this is a big one (it even has a regularly recognized acronym: NDAA) because it authorizes annual spending for the Defense Department. The House passed their version in May, but was yet to be considered in the Senate.

 

If averting the fiscal cliff is the number one priority for the lame-duck session, the NDAA is a close second. With only a narrow window before the 113th Congress begins, women's business advocates on Capitol Hill considered the removal of the WOSB caps during this Congress a long shot.

 

Just consider how damaging these caps have been. The caps currently prevent a WOSB set-aside contract from exceeding a value of $4 million ($6.5 millon in manufacturing contracts). Although nearly five million dollars seems like a large contract, it is important to note that in FY2011, $537 billion--billion, with a "b"--was spent in federal contracting. It is little wonder the government failed to reach its contracting goal with women, when it prohibited the awarding of significant contracts.

 

These caps prevented federal agencies from using the set-aside program to actively deliver the most lucrative of government contracts. This issue was even critical enough to include in WIPP's 2012 legislative priorities. In other words, the palying field only seemed equal--and how WOSB set-asides were faced with these limits.

 

These restraints seemed destined to remain, until an opportunity arrived, in the form of the belated NDAA. The bill might serve as a vehicle for the caps to be lifted--and Senator Snowe filed an amendment to that end, a major win in itself as it brought the issue front and center. The issue, though, had not gone unaddressed during this legislative session. The text of the amendment came directly from Senator Snowe's Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2012(S. 2172), which never made it out of committee. The amendment, a short piece of a lengthy bill, represented a long-time effort in this Congress to have these caps removed.

 

Unfortunatley, the amendment was not alone--nearly four hundred amendments were also submitted for consideration.

 

Thus began a furious effort to make the amendment's importance clear. The staffs of various Senators and advocates used the steady stream of phone calls, letters, and action alerts on the issue to make the voices of the women's business community heard. A tense weekend followed, with the fate of the amendment and an opportunity at positive change for women-owned businesses up in the air.

 

Then the call came, news that the amendment was not only pending but had been added to the bill--a bill with an incredible likelihood to become law.

 

And so it was, that on a surprisingly warm December afternoon, an effort more than ten years in the making was rewarded. In the 112th Congress, it has been hard--even frustrating--to get things done. But for one hard-working weekend, the Senate did a critical piece of legislating. When you really look at the whole sotry--the years of advocacy by WIPP and by women business owners, the gravity of the change needed, the unlikely delay of a normal bill until a lame-duck session, the sheer number of other possible policies added to the bill, and the timeline in which it all happened (a matter of days)--it really is quite an incredible victory.

 

A miracle even.

After 11 long years of fighting for women-owned small business see asides, government contract awards to women-owned firms in FY 2011 totaled less than the cost of one drone.   In an article featured in Bloomberg Government, http://ow.ly/bK1b9, WIPP commented on the progress of the WOSB program.   Follow the progress of the 11 year battle for parity and join us in our efforts to make this program work!  

Why is it so Hard to Give Women a Fair Shake in Government Contracting?

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Government Relations

The women's business community worked together as a team for 11 years to get a women-owned business procurement program in place. This was in response to the inability of federal government to award 5% of its contracting with women owned companies - a government wide goal.

Since the program was rolled out in February 2011, a major stumbling block has been the limits placed on the size of the contracts permitted under the program. Contracts in this program are limited to 83 industry categories. Of those 83 industry categories, the federal government can only award contracts of $6.5 million in manufacturing and $4 million for everything else.

Legislation was introduced in the Senate and the House to fix this. The House version, H.R. 4203 passed the House Small Business Committee but did not get anywhere, despite the fact that other small business procurement bills were included in a major defense authorization bill. One of the flaws in this version of the fix is a requirement to put in a place a new certification at SBA for women-owned companies. This would result in delays and expense for women-owned companies - the current system of allowing third parties to certify is much more efficient. The Senate bill, S. 2172, has slowly been gathering sponsors. Surprisingly, only nine Senators have signaled their support.

No other small business procurement program has these limitations on contract awards. In addition, the other programs do have the ability to award a contract under $5 million to a single vendor, given the proper justifications. The women's procurement program does not have that either.

Simply put, the Congress is ignoring the 7.8 million women business owners who took the risk to become entrepreneurs, meet payrolls and create jobs. The question is why? There is a way to solve it. The Senate needs to pass S. 2172. It is a small bill that packs a big impact.

What can you do? Contact your Senators and tell them to support S. 2172. Women business owners should be treated fairly when it comes to getting federal government contracts.

#WIPP

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