WASHINGTON - Senator John F. Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Ranking Member Senator Olympia J. Snowe, sent a letter today to the Small Business Administration requesting an extension to the comment period until January 30, 2009, for a rule to implement the Women’s Procurement Program.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 1, concludes that 31 out of 140 industries studied can compete for set-aside federal contracts. It also requires that agency by agency findings of discrimination must be made before participation in the program can begin. The SBA requested public comment on its final rule, but has failed to publish key, underlying new data, making it difficult for those dedicated to improving entrepreneurship opportunities for women to analyze the rule and advocate for change.

“Time and time again the administration has fallen short in providing women with adequate access to government contracts, and this proposed rule is no different,” said Kerry. “More time is needed to ensure every interested party has a chance to voice their concerns about the way the SBA is attempting to implement this vital program. Eight years ago, when Congress passed this law, our intent was to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Instead, the administration has undermined the program and given us a ruling that creates more roadblocks, doing nothing to make it easier for women to compete.”

“The Administration must extend the comment period and publish the underlying data so that women-owned small businesses across our country can provide meaningful feedback about what industries should be covered under the new rule,” said Ranking Member Snowe. “The SBA's final rule will potentially only assist a handful of women-owned firms. Given our precarious economy, this is not the time to limit the participation of one of our nation’s fastest growing business industries. Women entrepreneurs deserve a final contracting rule that will actually help them receive their fair share of business with the government.”

Despite accounting for 30 percent of all small businesses, women-owned firms receive less than 3.5 percent of federal contracts - far short of the five percent goal. To help women compete for federal contracts, Congress created the Women’s Procurement Program in 2000, to spur the government to contract with more women-owned firms. Nearly eight years later, that program has yet to be enacted by the Administration, costing women-owned businesses more than $6 billion in potential revenue.

Please click here to read the letter.