WASHINGTON-- Members of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship expressed extreme disappointment at the Bush Administration’s failure to help women-owned firms gain equal access to federal contracts under a law enacted seven years ago. In a letter to the Administration, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) outlined their objections to a proposed rule that severely restricts opportunities for women in federal contracting. They were joined by Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Members Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

“By putting up more roadblocks for women entrepreneurs trying to enter the federal marketplace the Bush Administration is making a serious mistake,” said Senator Kerry. “Women own almost 30 percent of small businesses in our country, yet they receive only 3.4 percent of federal contracts. When Congress passed the law seven years ago, we intended to level the playing field for the 10 million women entrepreneurs in our country, but this insulting, misdirected and narrow interpretation of the law does nothing to make it easier for women to compete.”

“The SBA’s decision to exclude most industries from the program fails hundreds of thousands of woman-owned businesses that are ready and able to fulfill federal contracts,” Senator Levin said. “The rule is inconsistent with Congressional legislative intent, and I’m hopeful that the SBA will amend the program so that these businesses are given the opportunity to compete.”

"I am greatly concerned about the proposed Women's Procurement Program rule. I urge the SBA to reconsider its current position," stated Senator Lieberman. "As the rule is currently written, women small business owners will see little improvement in current federal contract awards."

“Women-owned small businesses deserve the same support as all small business owners,” said Cantwell. “Since taking office, I have worked hard to make sure small business owners, regardless of gender, are able to compete in a free and fair market. Road blocks like these imposed by the administration is a step in the wrong direction. Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and contribute greatly to our economy. During a time of economic instability, proposing this rule puts the market at great risk.”

"The newly proposed rule is a step backwards and denies women-owned businesses the equal opportunities that the SBA is supposed to be promoting,” said Senator Cardin. “I join with Chairman Kerry and my colleagues to urge the SBA administrator to re-write the rule to ensure women are not excluded from the resources they deserve.”

“Like most rural states, small businesses are the backbone of Montana’s economy,” Tester said. “And when it comes to federal contracts, the playing field needs to be even for all men and women who run small businesses. We’ll make sure the SBA gets that message, loud and clear.”

The Women’s Procurement Program, enacted into law in 2000, creates a set-aside program to help women fairly compete for federal contracts. Women receive only 3.4 percent of federal contract dollars – far short of the five percent goal. Yet a recent rule proposed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) claims that women are underrepresented in only four out of more than 140 categories of federal contracts. Despite repeated bipartisan calls for action, the Bush Administration has failed to implement this program over the last seven years, costing women-owned businesses an estimated $6 billion in lost potential revenue.

At a Small Business Committee hearing this week Kerry and Levin aggressively pressed the Administration to rewrite the proposed rule and come up with something that more closely follows Congressional intent.

To read the letter to Administrator Preston in its entirety, please click here.