“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” According to Wikipedia this question is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality.

In metaphorical terms, a tree fell in the forest for Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) with regard to federal contracting in 2015. On October 14, the Small Business Administration (SBA) authorized federal agencies to award sole source contracts to WOSBs that meet stated criteria. This, in addition to the existing ability to issue set-asides for WOSBs was a huge accomplishment for WOSBs.  But some federal contracting officers were skeptical about making awards because the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the principal set of rules in the Federal Acquisition Regulation System, had not yet been updated.

Then on December 31 another tree fell!  The FAR Council updated the FAR to include the regulation. Some federal agencies have been taking advantage of this new legal authority and issuing sole source awards to WOSBs.  However, at many federal agencies the sound was not heard because obstacles still exist. The adoption has been hampered because:

  • The SBA intentionally dis-aggregated the certification process from the award process in an attempt to help WOSBs by expediting the award process. This may have unintentionally caused confusion. Despite the fact that the WOSB certification process has not yet been determined, the sole source authority is now the law.  
  • Some Federal agencies are disincentivized from using the WOSB program because they are already meeting their Women-Owned goals by double counting in other categories such as SBA’s 8(a) program for economically and socially disadvantaged individuals,  Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses (SDVOSB) and businesses located in HUBZones. These groups have enjoyed set-asides and sole source awards for many years. 
  • A lack of formal training for agency procurement professionals (thus far) on the WOSB procurement program hinders the adoption of the regulation. Until education around the acquisition process for this new program is available, the program’s impact will be limited.

The net effect is that for WOSBs who do not have another socio-economic certification the set-asides and sole source awards are still mostly unattainable – although completely legal. Women-Owned Small Businesses must proactively reach out to federal agencies to inform them of this new authority to ensure that our new reality is achieved.

SynaVoice LLC is an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB).

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