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SBA: women's set-aside may start by year-end.

On the eve of a congressional hearing on the long-delayed set-aside for woman-owned businesses, SBA said it hopes to implement the program before the end of the year.

It is the first time the agency has publicly set a timetable for implementing the set-aside that was signed into law by President Clinton more than six years ago.

In a press release, SBA said a study to determine eligibility for the program "is in the final stages of clearance" and will be released publicly. SBA contracted with the Rand Corp. for the study a year ago after an independent review found its earlier study was inadequate.

Rand examined federal procurement records to determine the industries in which woman-owned firms are underrepresented in contracting.

According to the law, in industries where women are found to be underrepresented, small firms owned by socially or economically disadvantaged women will be eligible for set-aside contracts. In industries where women are "substantially underrepresented," all woman-owned firms will qualify for set-asides.

The U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce sued SBA in 2004 over the delay in implementing the program. Federal Judge Reggie Walton in Washington ordered the agency to provide periodic progress reports.

Nancy Lee Hurlbert, national policy chair of the Women's Chamber, said SBA had told the judge the Rand study would be completed by Nov. 21, 2006. In its March 20 statement SBA said the study is not yet complete.

"It is our goal that the program be implemented by late 2007," the statement said.

SBA defended the delay by pointing to the "complex and controversial" nature of the study. In adopting the 8(a) program, the agency said, Congress explicitly found that certain minority groups were disadvantaged, while the act creating the Women's Federal Procurement Program left it to SBA to determine who was disadvantaged.

SBA said it expects to publish a final rule implementing the set-aside program by the end of June. In its proposed rule the agency said it would not accept self-certification of woman-owned firms, but would set up its own certification program. (SAA, 6/30/2006)

Congress authorized the agency to allow self-certification, but did not require it. SBA said self-certification might not stand up to a legal challenge under Supreme Court decisions limiting affirmative action.

Several women's business groups accused the agency of sabotaging the intent of Congress and further restricting the entry of woman-owned firms into the federal marketplace.

SBA estimated it could certify about 2,000 companies a year. There are more than 75,000 woman-owned businesses listed in the government's Central Contractor Registration.

The House Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology scheduled a hearing on federal contracting with woman-owned businesses for March 21, too late for this issue of Set-Aside Alert.
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Publication:Set-Aside Alert
Date:Mar 23, 2007
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