WASHINGTON--- Today Senator Kerry and Senator Levin (D-Mich.) aggressively pushed Administrator Steven Preston to rewrite a proposed rule that severely restricts opportunities for women in federal contracting. In a Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing the Senators interrogated the Bush Administration about its failure to increase opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

“The Bush Administration had the opportunity to make it easier for women to compete for federal contracts but instead they’ve made it harder,” said Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Committee. “We can and must do better to implement this program in a way that will help women-owned small businesses create jobs and grow our economy.”

“The SBA could have chosen a methodology that is both legally defensible and achieves the goal of getting women-owned businesses to a five percent share of federal contracts,” Senator Levin said. “Instead, the SBA made an unnecessarily cautious and narrow choice on its rule and failed to achieve the public policy goal that Congress clearly intended. The SBA has failed the hundreds of thousands of women-owned small businesses that are ready and able to do business with the federal government and that failure troubles me a great deal.”

Kerry and Levin grilled Administrator Preston about the Women’s Procurement Program, which mandates that women have equal access to federal contracts. Despite women receiving only 3.4 percent of federal contract dollars – far short of the five percent goal, a recent rule proposed by the Administration concludes that women are underrepresented in only four out of 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.

Senator Kerry also pressed the Administration to strengthen its lender oversight in the wake of a $76 million fraud scheme involving loans originated by small business lender Business Loan Center, LLC (BLX). At a hearing in November, the SBA disagreed with the lender oversight recommendations set forth by the agency’s Inspector General and the SBA also requested lengthy redactions to the Inspector General’s public report.

Today Kerry called on the Administration to work to show more transparency in its lender oversight. The hearing also focused on promises made by the Administration to implement disaster loan reform, and implement programs to help small firms become energy efficient. Senator Kerry also followed up with Administrator Preston about the status of the Women’s Business Center renewal grants program, which the agency had promised to implement by this month.