Only one percent of women-owned small business contract awards have come from WOSB or EDWOSB set-asides.
This disheartening finding was part of a recent GAO report on WOSB contracting, which finds that WOSB set-asides have had a “minimal effect” on agency awards to WOSBs and attainment of agency WOSB goals. The GAO report offers some insights on program changes that might increase the use of WOSB set-asides, including one major change that may already be in the works.
WOSB set-asides were a long time coming. Congress authorized such set-asides in 2000. But it was not until 2010 that the SBA issued a final rule implementing the program. The WOSB program took effect in 2011, and hopes were high that the government would use the new set-aside authority to quickly meet–and exceed–its 5% WOSB goal.
It didn’t happen. According to the GAO, from April 2011 to May 2014, WOSB program set-asides constituted a very small percentage, 0.44%, of all the $52.6 billion in contracting obligations awarded to WOSBs. In other words, agencies have largely ignored the new set-aside authority, resulting in minimal gains in WOSB awards. In the first three years following the implementation of the WOSB set-aside program, the government continued to fall short of its 5% WOSB goal.
Why have agencies failed to take advantage of their new WOSB set-aside authority? According to contracting officers interviewed by the SBA, the WOSB program is “burdensome” and “complex” as compared to other set-aside programs.
In this regard, contracting officers disliked the mandatory use of the WOSB document repository, which places additional administrative burdens on procuring agencies. One contracting officer told the GAO that the procurement process “slowed when officials had to seek information from the repository.” Contracting officers also pointed to a lack of knowledge about the WOSB set-aside program, and suggested that increased outreach or awareness of the WOSB program would be beneficial.
Contracting officers suggested that WOSB set-asides might be used more often if WOSB set-asides were authorized under more NAICS codes or if WOSB sole source awards were permitted. Although no changes to the NAICS codes are on the horizon, WOSB sole source authority may be coming soon.
The GAO’s report on WOSB set-asides is disheartening, and demonstrates why the government has struggled to meet its WOSB goals even in the three years following the adoption of the WOSB set-aside program. Sole source authority may help the government achieve its goals, but policymakers should be concerned about the lack of competitive WOSB set-asides. If contracting officers find the WOSB program too complex and burdensome to use, the SBA ought to consider measures to reduce these complexities and encourage agencies to take advantage of their WOSB contracting authority.