Is a women-owned small business considered a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) by the Small Business Administration (SBA)? Much like, “What color is George Washington’s white horse?” and “How many years did the Hundred Year War last?” the question sounds like a riddle, but the reality is that simply being a women-owned small business does not qualify a business as a SBA WOSB. A WOSB must take certain steps to establish eligibility and must operate in an industry identified by one of eighty-three specific North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes.
The WOSB program is one of many set-aside programs the SBA offers to assist small businesses pursuing contract opportunities in the federal market. Some SBA programs, such as small business and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern (SDVOSBC) set-asides, only require businesses to review and self-certify their eligibility. Other small business set-asides programs, such as the 8(a) Business Development (BD) and HUBZone programs, require SBA certification before participation. Certification for the WOSB and the Economically Disadvantaged WOSB (EDWOSB) programs are a unique blend of those two approaches.
At the time a women-owned small business submits an offer on a contract reserved for WOSBs or EDWOSBs, the company must be registered in the System for Award Management (SAM), have a current representation posted on SAM that it qualifies as a WOSB or EDWOSB, and have uploaded required documents to the WOSB Program Repository through SBA’s General Login System (GLS). The documents include a WOSB or EDWOSB Program Certification and representation stating, subject to penalties for misrepresentation, the business is a WOSB or EDWOSB, small for the applicable size standard, and at least fifty-one percent owned and controlled by one or more women who are United States citizens. Documents uploaded in the WOSB Program Repository must be kept current and, at a minimum, updated annually. Unlike the 8(a) BD and HUBZone programs, SBA does not issue a certification letter to WOSBs or EDWOSBs, which can leave businesses with a sense of uncertainty about the process. SBA has approved a few third-party certifiers from which it will accept certifications. In truth, the onus for verifying the eligibility of a WOSB or EDWOSB is placed on the contracting officer at the time of the initial offer.
Effective October 14, 2015, SBA established sole source authority for WOSBs and EDWOSBs implementing a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. The sole source authority can only be used if, after thorough market research, the contracting officer cannot identify two or more WOSBs or EDWOSBs that can perform the requirement at a fair and reasonable price, but can identify one WOSB or EDWOSB that can perform. The sole source authority is also limited to contracts $4 million dollars or less, or up to $6.5 million for a manufacturing contract.
In an effort to implement the WOSB and EDWOSB sole source authority promptly, SBA’s new rule did not address NDAA’s requirement for WOSB and EDWOSB certification. WOSB, EDWOSB, and contracting officers should anticipate significant changes to WOSB and EDWOSB certifications based on the new sole source authority.
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