December 9, 2014
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In Speech, Cantwell Urges Passage of Women’s Small Business Provision in Defense Bill 

Senator’s provision would give parity to women-owned small businesses in federal contracting, help ‘break a glass ceiling’


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, urged her colleagues to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015, which includes a provision she introduced to ensure women-owned small businesses have equal access to federal contracting.


In a speech on the Senate floor, Cantwell said the legislation will help women entrepreneurs across the country break a glass ceiling.”

 “There are 8 million women-owned business in the United States. But they only get a tiny percent – 4 percent – of federal contracts,” Cantwell said. “We want to make sure this is changed.”

 The House of Representatives approved the NDAA last week. It is now before the Senate for consideration.

 Section 825 of the NDAA would authorize federal agencies to award sole-source contracts to women-owned small businesses, giving women the same level of access to the federal contracting marketplace as other disadvantaged groups.

 A similar provision authorizing sole-source contracting for women was introduced in the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2014, which Cantwell sponsored in the Senate. It was cosponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and John Walsh (D-MT).

In July, the Senate Small Business Committee issued a report showing that women are not getting equal access to federal contracts. The federal government has set a goal of awarding 5 percent of contracts to women-owned small businesses, but that goal has never been reached. As a result, women business owners miss out on an average of $4 billion in federal contracting opportunities each year, according to the report.

In Washington state, falling short of the 5 percent goal means women business owners miss out on an average of $188 million in contracting opportunities each year, according to a separate committee report.

The NDAA legislation adopts recommendations from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship report to provide parity for women in federal contracting. 

“We heard an earful from women entrepreneurs all across America,” Cantwell said in the speech. “It spurred us to take action and make major changes.”

Sole-source contracting already is available to small businesses owned by minorities and veterans, as well as businesses located in underserved areas. Authorizing sole-source awards for women would give parity to the women-owned small business program, creating more opportunities for them to grow their businesses and create jobs.

“Sole-source contracting allows the federal government to streamline the procurement process when selecting a company,” Cantwell said. “This can be beneficial to small businesses that have the technical expertise to provide goods and services for the taxpayer, but don’t have the ability to wade through the federal contracting process.”

The legislation also would require the U.S. Small Business Administration to verify the ownership status of women-owned small businesses. Currently, businesses self-report whether they are owned by women when competing for federal contracts. This change will ensure that the women’s contracting program benefits those for whom it was intended.

Women entrepreneurs account for just $1 out of every $23 in small business lending, despite representing 30 percent of all small companies. They are also more likely to be turned down for loans or face less favorable terms than men, according to the committee’s July 23 report, 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship.