Procurement regulations implemented in 1996 mandated that women-owned small businesses (WOSB) receive five percent of governmentwide contracts. Although the number of contracts awarded to WOSBs has risen more than four times as fast as other federal contracting efforts since 1996, the goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to WOSBs has not been met. More agencies succeeded in meeting the WOSB subcontracting goal than their prime contracting goal. GAO found that three federal agencies--the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of State, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--met or exceeded both goals in three of the four years it studied. Because the Department of Defense, which accounted for 64 percent of federal procurement in 1999, did not come close to achieving its five-percent goal, the governmentwide goal for prime contracting with WOSBs could not have been met even if all other federal agencies reached their prime contracting goals. Government officials cited many obstacles to increasing federal contracting with WOSBs, including a reduced contracting personnel force and the absense of a targeted WOSB government program. These contracting officers offered suggestions for increasing WOSB participation in federal contracting, including a strengthened outreach program and expanded excess to contract financing.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Small Business Administration||The Administrator, Small Business Administration (SBA), should direct the new Office of Federal Contracting Assistance for Women Business Owners to evaluate the benefits and effects of the suggestions for increasing federal contracting with WOSBs that surfaced in this review. These include the implementation of agency mentor-protege programs that include WOSBs, of measures to facilitate teaming arrangements and expand contract financing, as well as the exploration of initiatives to consolidate and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of outreach efforts. Another issue worthy of further study is the extent to which pressures on the acquisition workforce may be contributing to contracting practices that reduce opportunities for small businesses. These actions are consistent with the broad authority as well as specific direction given to SBA under the recent executive order. Any of the suggestions deemed feasible should be considered for implementation.|
|Small Business Administration||The Administrator, SBA, should include in SBA's mandated study of industries in which WOSBs are underrepresented sufficient analysis to establish more realistic agency-specific annual goals for prime and subcontracts with WOSBs. Given the Department of Defense's (DOD) predominance in government contracting, SBA could benefit from the active collaboration and support of DOD in performing the study. SBA should also keep Congress informed as it develops a strategy for implementing the new provisions designed to expand federal contracting with WOSBs. In particular, SBA should notify its authorizing and appropriations committees if it determines that its capacity to implement the key provisions of the legislation will be impaired by insurmountable resource constraints.|