In December of 2000, Congress authorized a Small Business Administration (SBA) program to support women-owned businesses in bidding for federal contracts. The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program allows government contracting officers to set aside contracts specifically for qualifying women-owned businesses in underrepresented and substantially underrepresented North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes.
A brief history
Despite being enacted in December of 2000, the program was not fully operational until February 2011, as past legal challenges to race- and gender-conscious contracting programs made it difficult for the SBA to establish an “appropriate methodology” for identifying underrepresented industries. After contracting with the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the Kaufman-RAND Institute for Entrepreneurship Public Policy (RAND), the SBA issued a final rule in 2010 identifying 83 four-digit NAICS industry groups in which WOSBs were underrepresented or substantially underrepresented.
In 2014, Congress passed legislation requiring the SBA to update the list of underrepresented and substantially underrepresented codes by January 2016, and then every five years thereafter. Based on a 2015 study by the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), the SBA expanded the NAICS codes for “underrepresented and substantially underrepresented” industries to include 30 additional four-digit codes in 2016. Arborist services, which fall under the six-digit code of “Landscape Services” (561730), are eligible for WOSB set-aside contracts, and have been identified as an industry in which WOSBs are substantially underrepresented.
Specifically, to be eligible to participate in this program, WOSB’s must:
• be certified as a small business (as defined by the SBA);
• be at least 51% unconditionally and directly owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens;
• have women manage day-to-day operations and make long-term decisions; and
• be certified by a federal agency, a state government, the SBA or a national certifying entity approved by the SBA.
The federal-contracting program also provides specialized assistance for Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (EDWOSBs), which must meet all of the criteria for WOSBs and in addition be owned and controlled by one or more women, each:
• with a personal net worth of less than $750,000;
• with $350,000 or less in adjusted gross income averaged over the previous three years; and
• having $6 million or less in personal assets (including business value and primary residence).
In May of 2020, the SBA revoked the option for WOSBs to self-certify following an audit from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found that “about 3.5% of WOSB set-aside contracts were awarded for ineligible goods or services” from April 2011 through June 2018. The SBA now offers free certification through its online portal or through Third-Party Certifiers (TPCs), which include the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Women Business Owners Corporation, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, though both options require the use of the online portal. The SBA’s consolidated platform now requires that WOSBs and EDWOSBs update their certification information on a yearly basis, but offers a multitude of resources including SBA program experts to assist with eligibility and application guidance.
Readers curious about their eligibility as a potential WOSB or an EDWOSB are encouraged to attend the SBA’s free training webinars and virtual town halls, offered twice a month, that further explain the certification process to interested business owners. The SBA also provides follow-up correspondence to applicants from program advisors in addition to offering a multitude of resources geared toward current certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs seeking to learn more about bidding on new contracts.
As an SBA-recognized WOSB and EDWOSB, women business owners can pursue and secure federal contracts in a more equitable fashion. For additional guidance and information regarding these programs, TCIA members should visit the sba.gov’s page, “Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program.”
Basil Thomson is a senior associate and Lara Dunkelberg is a legislative assistant, both with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.
Click here, to email Aiden O’Brien, TCIA’s advocacy & standards manager, to continue the conversation.