Women-owned small businesses seeking federal contracts won a victory when the Small Business Administration (SBA) published a rule, effective Oct. 14, allowing for the use of sole-source authority in the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program.

The fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act provided agencies with statutory authority to award sole-source contracts to WOSBs through the WOSB Federal Contract Program. Until this rule was finalized by the SBA rule published on Sept. 14, the program was the only major small business contracting program without this authority — putting women entrepreneurs at a distinct disadvantage.

Instead, the WOSB program only had a limited ability to set aside contracts, allowed when multiple women-owned firms signaled they would compete for the contract.

The SBA final rule will be effective and available for use by all federal agencies on Oct. 14. Similar to other small business contracting programs, WOSB sole source contracts will be limited to certain sizes. Manufacturing contracts have a cap of $6.5 million, while all other contracts have a cap of $4 million.

The federal government has a goal of awarding 23% of contracts to all small businesses, with fiscal 2014 was the first year in which the goal was actually reached. That year, more than $100 billion in contracts were awarded to small businesses of all types. Of that total, 4.7% were awarded to WOSBs, which was just short of the 5% goal for the category.

Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) has championed this issue through Congress and applauds Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, and legislators such as Sens. Maria Cantwell and Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Jackie Speier, for their leadership and efforts to bring parity to women contractors.

“After 15 years of work, the WOSB program is finally on a level playing field with other programs. This parity means women entrepreneurs face fewer barriers when entering the federal market,” said Kristie Arslan, executive director of WIPP. “The implementation of sole source authority for the WOSB Procurement Program is the final step in cementing the WOSB program as the tool to bring more innovations, products and services to government agencies.”

Small businesses certified in other socio-economic programs, such as Service-Disabled Veterans, HUBZone and the 8(a) Program, have enjoyed sole source ability for more than five years. The challenge in every program is educating the contracting officers on the new rules and regulations. This is a complicated, time-consuming process that may take additional time. Business owners will be well served to be fully informed about this WOSB rule and be willing to share the appropriate information with the government contracting and acquisition personnel.

For more information about the WOSB Program and the new SBA rule, go to www.sba.gov/wosb.

Gloria Larkin is president of TargetGov in Linthicum. She can be contacted via www.targetgov.com and 866-579-1346.