Good morning and welcome. I want to thank our witnesses for being here to discuss the issues facing women small business owners in the United States today. I would especially like to recognize Wendi Goldsmith, the President of Bioengineering Group, who traveled down here from Salem, Massachusetts. I am glad to see her here and look forward to her testimony about her experiences contracting with the federal government.

Today, there are 7.7 million women-owned firms in the United States. That means nearly one-third of all private firms are owned by women. These firms generate more than $1 trillion in sales and employ more than 7 million people. In Massachusetts alone, 189,000 firms are contributing $30 billion to the economy and employing 177,000 individuals. And these numbers are on the rise. Women-owned firms increased by 43 percent over the last decade – almost double the increase in firms overall – making them an important part of our nation’s economic well-being.

However, despite this good news and tremendous growth, women-owned small businesses still continue to have lower revenue and fewer employees than firms owned by men. For instance, only 16 percent of firms with employees are owned by women. In addition, although 6 percent of businesses owned by men have revenues of $1 million or more, only 3 percent of all women-owned firms do so. Women-owned firms also account for less than three percent of all federal contracts, even though they comprise 30 percent of all privately held firms.

Today we’re going to be focusing on two programs designed to help more women overcome hurdles and become successful entrepreneurs: the Women’s Business Center program and the Women’s Procurement program.

The Women’s Business Center program has been invaluable in helping women succeed in business, especially economically and socially disadvantaged women. And no center has done more to help women in Massachusetts than the Center for Women and Enterprise. Its leader, Donna Good, is not only a friend to women in Massachusetts but also to this Committee as she shares the concerns of her clients with us

Although the Women’s Business Center program has been a tremendous resource for women, our Committee has heard from the centers that red tape and bureaucracy have been the norm in their dealings with SBA. Late grants payments from the SBA—sometimes even a year or more late—and a lack of clear guidelines have threatened to weaken the program. Two recent investigations will shed some light on these allegations. Bill Shear of the Government Accountability Office is here to discuss the Women’s Business Center program’s overall strengths and weaknesses, while Debra Ritt from the SBA’s Inspector General’s office will discuss their recent investigation of the Women’s Business Center program. I requested this IG investigation after hearing story after story of late payments to women’s business centers.

We’ll also discuss the implementation of legislation signed into law in May to make permanent funding available to established centers. Back in 1999, when Senator Snowe and I succeeded in getting the Sustainability Pilot Program signed into law – giving centers a maximum of ten years of funding -- it was in response to calls from Women’s Business Centers that they needed continued federal funding beyond the initial five years in order to succeed. Since these centers target low-income women and are unable to charge large fees for participation, ongoing federal funding is critical for many of the centers. Now that we’ve ensured that Women’s Business Centers can continue to apply for federal funding beyond the 10 years, we need to get this law implemented quickly. Established Women’s Business Centers should not have to wait another year just because of bureaucratic delays.

Women have also been waiting for the federal government to make good on its commitment to implement the Women’s Procurement Program. Why has it taken seven years for the Bush Administration to put this program in place? Women-owned businesses accounted for less than 3 percent of all federal contracting dollars last year, despite the fact that they comprise over 30 percent of all private firms. Congress created the Women’s Procurement Program so we could help more women-owned firms break into federal contracting. But the Administration has been M-I-A.

Failure to implement the Women’s Procurement Program has cost women business owners at least $6 billion in lost contracts. In May, I urged the SBA to properly use the RAND disparity study as they implemented the Women’s Procurement Program. In a July hearing, SBA Associate Administrator Paul Hsu said the program would be in place by the end of this fiscal year. September 30th is just around the corner, and women small business owners deserve to know exactly what is happening with that program. Women entrepreneurs have made huge strides in the last 20 years---the 45 percent increase in sales among women-owned firms in Massachusetts in the last decade is just one example. However, to ensure that women get their fair share of federal contracts and overcome the ever-present barriers to accessing capital and business networks, programs such as the Women’s Business Center and Women Procurement program will continue to play a valuable role. It is essential that the SBA implement these programs quickly and administer them fairly. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses here today, and I now recognize my colleague, Senator Snowe.