On March 2, 2016, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that after more than 20 years of effort, the 5% target goal for awarding federal contracts to businesses owned and operated by women has been reached. This translates to more than $17.8 billion in awarded contracts in fiscal 2015.

The 5% goal was set as part of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, and led to the creation of the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract program in the Equity in Contracting for Women Act of 2000. The program enables Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts that are set aside for WOSBs and EDWOSBs in specific industries that are indicated by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

This 5% goal announcement was immediately followed by a Department of Commerce report stating that women are still 21% less likely to win government contracts than otherwise similar companies. This study was published in the Federal Register on March 3, 2016.

As a result of the report, the SBA has determined changes will be implemented to the WOSB Federal Contracting Program to provide expanded opportunities for WOSBs to pursue set-aside and sole-source federal contracts.

The SBA has also authorized the addition of 113 new NAICS groups for WOSB and EDWOSB set-asides, increasing the industries now eligible for these contracts.

“This is a truly remarkable moment for women business owners and government agencies, but there is still much work to be done,” said Kristie Arslan, executive director at Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). “We will continue to be a tireless champion of the program and solicit support to ensure that women-owned businesses have access to the tools they need to successfully compete in the federal marketplace.”

In April 2013, WIPP, American Express OPEN and the SBA launched ChallengeHER, a national initiative to boost government contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses. ChallengeHER delivers free workshops, mentoring and direct access to government buyers. Now entering its fourth year, ChallengeHER has educated more than 5,400 women entrepreneurs at 39 workshops across the country and has facilitated more than 1,900 meetings between women small business owners and government officials.

WIPP and American Express OPEN are longtime champions of women entrepreneurs in the federal contracting space. Together they created the Give Me 5 program in 2008 to give women-owned small businesses access to knowledge and resources to help win federal contracts. At the time, just 3.4% of federal contracts were awarded to women-owned small businesses — roughly $13 billion of the approximately $400 billion awarded annually.

“Without the strong commitment from organizations like WIPP and the SBA, reaching this important milestone would not have been possible,” said Susan Sobbott, president of Global Commercial Payments for American Express. “We call on all women entrepreneurs to keep this momentum going and encourage them to scale their businesses by taking their products and services to government agencies.”

The contracting landscape for women-owned businesses has improved significantly as a result of strong public and private support and bipartisan efforts. In early 2013, due to the efforts of WIPP and its coalition partners, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law, removing caps on eligible federal contract awards under the SBA’s WOSB Federal Contract program. Before the law was put into place, awards to women-owned small business were capped at $4 million and $6.5 million under the program.

WIPP had further success in improving the WOSB Federal Contract Program in 2014 with the passage of a new law that provided federal agencies with statutory authority to award sole-source contracts to women-owned small businesses. The WOSB program was the only major small business contracting program without this authority at the time — putting women entrepreneurs at a distinct disadvantage.

Gloria Larkin is president of TargetGov, in Linthicum. Visit www.targetgov.com or call toll-free 866-579-1346 for more information.