In a move bringing to mind Etta James’ most popular refrain, SBA has proposed an amendment to its regulations which will require Woman-Owned Small Business program participants to be certified by the SBA or an SBA approved third-party certifier.
As we’ve talked about extensively on SmallGovCon (here, here, here, and here, to name a few), Congress and GAO have requested the SBA eliminate Woman-Owned Small Business program participant self-certification over and over again for the past few years. Most recently, GAO issued a report last month detailing ongoing issues with the SBA’s management of the WOSB program, due in part to SBA’s failure to eliminate WOSB self-certification in compliance with Congress’ 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. With these proposed amendments, SBA appears to have listened.
The proposed amendments are complex, so we’re focusing on the proposed initial certification processes for WOSBs in this post. Importantly, the proposed amendments outline two approved methods of WOSB certification: an entirely new Certification by SBA and a modified Certification by Third Party.
Certification by SBA
Certification by the SBA under the proposed amendments appears similar to the certification requirements of the 8(a) Business Development program, as well as Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business certification through the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation. Importantly, application is free! A woman-owned business may apply for SBA certification by accessing certify.sba.gov and submitting:
- information requested by the SBA under the amended regulation (and as required to demonstrate compliance with 13 C.F.R. subpart B) similar to that currently listed in 13 CFR § 127.300;
- if applicable, evidence demonstrating that it is a woman-owned business which is already a certified 8(a) participant, CVE-approved SDVOSB, or Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (authorized by the Department of Transportation); or
- if applicable, evidence that it has been certified as a WOSB by an approved Third Party Certifier (as discussed below).
After applicants submit an application, the proposed amendment requires the SBA to notify applicants whether their application is complete enough for evaluation within 15 days, and if not, indicate any additional information or clarification it needs to proceed. The proposed amendment also requires SBA to make its final determination within 90 days “whenever practicable.”
Whether the SBA approves or denies an application, it must notify the applicant in writing. If it denies an application, it must provide specific reasons for denial as well. Denied applicants may file a request for reconsideration within 30 days of the SBA’s denial decision and provide additional information countering the reasons the SBA provided for denial. The SBA may either approve the application in light of additional information, or deny it again on the same grounds or new grounds. The decision on reconsideration is SBA’s final decision, meaning there is no further appeal through SBA.
Certification by Third Party
Due to ongoing WOSB third-party certification practices, the SBA’s proposed amendments would still allow the SBA to approve third-party certifiers, either for-profit or non-profit entities, to certify WOSBs. Unlike SBA Certification, third-party certifiers would be permitted to “charge a reasonable fee” for certification, but only if certifiers also notify applicants that the SBA will certify for free. SBA plans to list approved third-party certifiers on its website, as before.
Under the amendment, to become a third-party certifier an entity will be required to submit a proposal to the SBA, which “will periodically hold open solicitations.” If the SBA determines that an entity’s proposal meets its criteria, “the SBA will enter into an agreement and designate the entity as an approved third party certifier.” This agreement will contain the minimum certification standards for the third-party certifier, which, for the most part, mirror the standards for SBA certification. Much of the proposed process for becoming a third -part certifier is similar to the current system, but includes more detail and mechanisms allowing the SBA to make sure certifiers keep coloring inside the lines.
To ensure that third-party certifiers continue to comply with requirements set by the SBA, the SBA’s proposed amendment would require third-party certifiers to submit quarterly reports to the SBA and allow the SBA to periodically review certifier compliance. If the SBA determines that a third-party certifier isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain, SBA may revoke its approval of the certifier.
Notably, unlike SBA’s various timelines for taking action on WOSB certification matters, the proposed amendment doesn’t include many regulations holding third-party certifiers to similar timelines (but that isn’t to say using a third-party certifier won’t be a speedier process than through SBA).
SBA is accepting public comments on the proposed amendment through July 15 of this year. After receiving public comments, SBA will hopefully move toward publishing a final rule quickly, at which time, WOSB self-certification will become a thing of the past.