Mr. KERRY . Mr. President, women-owned businesses have scored a double victory today. President Clinton and a bi-partisan coalition of Senators have unveiled separate but complementary national policies to increase procurement opportunities for businesses owned by women.

Though on its face Federal procurement may not sound like an important issue to the general public, or even a term that many recognize, it is one of the most lucrative, yet difficult, markets for small businesses to access, particularly those owned by women and under-represented minorities. For example, in 1999, women-owned businesses made up 38 percent of all businesses but received only 2.4 percent of the $189 billion in Federal prime contracts. We can do better. And, before we enact new laws, we should promote and enforce the ones we have.

First, I want to offer my strong support and sincere compliments to President Clinton for signing an executive order today that reaffirms and strengthens the executive branch's commitment to meeting the five-percent procurement goal for women-owned businesses. His staff has worked for months with the Small Business Administration, SBA , the National Women's Business Council, the Women's Coalition for Access to Procurement, Women First, Women's Construction Owners and Executives, and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council to draft a feasible plan to help Federal agencies and departments increase the number of contracts awarded to businesses owned by women. Announcing that plan this afternoon is timely.

Today I join my colleague Senator BOND to introduce a resolution that encourages the President to adopt a policy that reinforces and enforces a procurement law Congress passed in 1994. That law, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, established a government-wide goal for all heads of Federal departments and agencies to award five percent of their prime and subcontracts to women-owned businesses. First, this resolution asks the President to adopt a policy that supports the law and encourages agencies and departments to meet the goal. Second, this resolution asks the President to reinforce the law by holding the heads of agencies and departments accountable for meeting the five-percent goal.

I believe the President's executive order goes beyond the Senate's request and establishes a strong system within the Federal Government for increasing the number of contracts that go to women-owned businesses. I think it is very smart to hire an Assistant Administrator for Women's Procurement within the SBA's Office of Government Contracting. Increasing opportunities for women-owned businesses is a full-time job and devoting staff to this area is good use of resources.

I also think it is good policy for the Assistant Administrator to evaluate the agencies' contracting records on a semi-annual basis. This has two benefits. One, it encourages the procurement offices to run their operations like good small businesses. If you ask, most business owners will tell you that a key to running a successful business is having a solid business plan and regularly measuring your costs against revenues and projecting adequate inventory or staff to meet the demands of your products or services. I think it is a very good idea for contracting officers to do the same. Two, this policy allows the SBA to work with an agency that is not meeting its goal midway through the year rather than finding out at the end of the year when it is too late.

Lastly, I like the Administration's plan because it takes a holistic approach to procurement. Rather than just focusing on the agencies and departments, it requires the Assistant Administrator to organize training and development seminars that teach women entrepreneurs about the complex world of Federal procurement and the SBA's procurement programs. It will be much easier for women-owned businesses to compete for Federal contracts if they understand the process and how to find out about opportunities.

I think it is important to note that while the government as a whole is not contracting as it should with women-owned firms, there are some outstanding exceptions. Some Federal agencies have taken the lead in working with women owned firms, and should be congratulated. According to the Federal Procurement Data System, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Small Business Administration have all not only met the five percent goal, but have come in at around fifteen percent or better. That is three times the goal set by Congress.

These Federal agencies know that working with women-owned firms is not simply an altruistic exercise. These firms are strong, dependable and do good work. These firms provide a solid service to their customer, and the Federal contracting officers know it. In total, 20 Federal agencies either met or exceeded the five percent goal.

Therefore, we know that it is indeed possible for Government agencies to meet the five percent goal. With this resolution, it is our hope that agencies will work harder, following the examples of the agencies I discussed earlier, to contract with women-owned firms. I've supported many initiatives over the years to increase resources and opportunities for businesses owned by women. Most recently, I supported Senator LANDRIEU's legislation to re-authorize the National Women's Business Council for 3 years, and to increase the annual appropriation from $600,000 to $1 million. Part of that increase will be used to assist Federal agencies meet the five-percent procurement goal for women-owned businesses. The Council has provided great leadership in this area, making increased contracting opportunities a priority since it was created in 1988, and earned praise from Democrats and Republicans for two extensive procurement studies it published in 1998 and 1999. The first study tracked 11 years of Federal contracting so that we have measurable data, and the second study identified and analyzed public and private sector practices that have been successful in increasing contracting opportunities for women business owners. The additional resources will allow the Council to build on that study and put the information to good use, ultimately increasing competitive contracting opportunities for businesses owned by women.

In addition to supporting reauthorization of the National Women's Business Council, last year I introduced the Women's Business Centers Sustainability Act of 1999. Now public law, that legislation is helping Centers address the funding constraints that have been making it increasingly difficult for them to sustain the level of services they provide after they graduate from the Women's Business Centers program and no longer receive federal matching funds. It is important to note that SBA requires Women's Business Centers to provide procurement training.

As part of that bill, we passed an amendment addressing Federal procurement opportunities for women-owned small businesses. The amendment expressed the sense of the Senate that the General Accounting Office should conduct an audit on the federal procurement system for the preceding three years. Unlike the Council's previous studies and reports that focused on data and best practices, this report was to focus on why the agencies haven't met the congressionally mandated five-percent procurement goal for small businesses owned by women.

Mr. President, the Federal agencies have begun to make progress since Congress enacted the five-percent procurement goal, but I want the contracting managers to remember that this goal is a minimum, not a maximum. Out of the more than 9 million businesses owned by women in this country, I believe that the Federal Government can find ones that are qualified and reliable, with good products and services, to fill their contracts if they make it a priority.

I believe that the President's Executive Order establishes a strong system within the Federal Government for increasing the number of contracts that go to women-owned businesses, and I look forward to seeing the Federal departments and agencies meet the five-percent goal this year, as the Senate resolution emphasizes.