By Gloria Larkin, President of TargetGov,

Women-owned businesses racked up a huge win mid-December when Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) sole source authority. Sole source authority, a critical tool to increase awards of federal contracts to women-owned businesses, was one of few amendments to be included to the $577 billion measure.

In addition to adding sole source authority, the NDAA modifies the WOSB program in two ways. It requires WOSBs to be certified by either a federal agency, the SBA, state governments, or 3rd party certifiers approved by SBA. The legislation does not make clear how this impacts WOSBs currently registered in the program. In addition, the law accelerates the process by which SBA identifies which industries are eligible to participate in the program.

Much like other socio-economic programs, the provision will allow contracts of up to $4 million ($6.5 for manufacturing contracts) to be directly awarded to companies certified as WOSBs. A contracting officer will be able to award contracts through the WOSB program, if he or she does not have a reasonable expectation that two or more [women-owned] business will submit offers,” and it can be awarded at “a fair and reasonable price.”

Barbara Kasoff, President of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) stated “WIPP has been a tireless advocate for improving the WOSB program not just for parity’s sake, but also to foster strong economic growth for women-owned businesses.”

WIPP’s Chief Advocate, Ann Sullivan commented that “The original law wasn’t written that way back in the year 2000, but through WIPP’s persistence for 14 years, we finally have a program that is sustainable. We worked for 11 years to implement the first WOSB law, and then succeeded in removing the low dollar cap or limit on the size of the contracts that could be awarded to WOSBs. This is critical tool used by the federal government to award contracts to minorities, veterans and HUBZone firms and now women are part of this market as well.”

There are still a few hurdles to clear after the President signs the bill. Initially, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will promulgate rules to implement the law passed by Congress. Then the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council, which oversees contracting rules, must approve the changes. Finally, contracting officers and small business offices in the government need to understand the change in the law and start using this WOSB program.

The NDAA also included other small business contracting changes, including prohibitions on reverse auctions for certain contracts, increased transparency on bundled contracts, and simplified design-build acquisition processes.