WASHINGTON - Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said today that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has seriously undermined women-owned firms ability to gain access to federal contracts when it announced plans to finalize a controversial rule to implement the Women’s Procurement Program.

The rule, of which a synopsis was posted online Friday and the full language will be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, concludes that just 31 out of 140 industries studied can compete for sole source federal contracts, but it requires that any federal agency wanting to participate in the Women’s Procurement Program must prove discrimination. An earlier version of the rule, proposed in December 2007, allowed only four categories of businesses to participate in the program.

“Interpreting just 31 out of more than 100 industries as underrepresented is insulting and hardly an improvement from the SBA’s earlier ruling,” said Kerry “By attempting, and failing, to address only one concern within this inadequate ruling, the SBA has undermined the Women’s Procurement Program and has subjected this program to a level of review that is not required by any constitutional standard. Eight years ago, when Congress passed this law, our intent was to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. This ruling includes more roadblocks and does nothing to make it easier for women to compete.”

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 passed the Women’s Procurement Program in 2000. Eight years later, that program has yet to be enacted by the President, costing women-owned businesses more than $6 billion in potential revenue.