By Matthew Wolfe
Rep. Nydia Velázquez is railing against a ruling recently put forth by the federal government that was supposed to help women-owned small businesses get more federal contracts, but which she claims has been gutted. Velázquez, who chairs the House Small Business Committee, said the government’s implementation of a law she sponsored and passed in 2000, which sets aside contracts for women-owned small business in underrepresented industries, now makes it apply to only four industries. The four industries are national security and international affairs; coating, engraving, heat treating and allied activities; household and institutional furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturing; and motor vehicle dealers). Velázquez said the legislation is all but toothless and wants it thrown out. “To suggest that the only women who deserve support are in industries as small as kitchen cabinet manufacturing is downright insulting,” said Velázquez in a statement. Brooklyn is home to approximately 20,000 women-owned small businesses, but the rule, which was intended to set aside a percentage of government contracts in certain industries in which women are under-represented, would only apply to a small percentage of them. In 2000, Velázquez sponsored the Woman’s Procurement Program, which promoted greater opportunities for women-owned small businesses to be awarded federal contracts. According to Velázquez, the Small Business Administration, the federal government agency in charge of the program, spent the next five years delaying it’s start by studying methods of implementing it. The U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce sued the government in 2005, forcing it to implement the program. “After nearly seven years of studies, delays and empty promises, the administration had a chance today to finally show its commitment to women-owned firms – unfortunately, this did not happen,” said Rep. Velázquez. “These entrepreneurs are being shut out of billions of dollars in federal contracting opportunities, yet their concerns are falling on deaf ears. This is extremely disheartening and it cannot continue.” The SBA defended the time it took to implement the program, saying that the studies were necessary. “SBA did attempt timely implementation,” said the agency in a statement. “The agency completed its initial study in 2001, but during the review process substantial questions were raised.” The Bush Administra-tion has in the past criticized minority and gender-based set-asides, saying that many such programs may be unconstitutional. The SBA indeed cited questions about the constitutionality of gender-based preference programs, as one of the reason for the delays, saying, “In general, set-asides and other preference programs are subject to a high degree of Constitutional scrutiny and require careful study and thorough justification.” The federal government based the rules for implementation, finally put forth this month, on the dollar amount awarded women-owned small business versus other methods of calculating in what industries women were under-represented. Margot Dorfman, the CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, an organization which advocates for women entrepreneurs, had harsh words for the new regulations, which she called “random,” and accused them of being less a good faith implementation than a delay tactic to prevent the law from going into effect. “It’s further delay and further sabotage,” said Dorfman. “It’s clear [the Small Business Associ-ation] has no interest in implementing the regulations in the way Congress has mandated.” The SBA said that it consulted studies by think tank The RAND Corporation and the National Academy of Sciences, whose recommendations they “took into account” when developing the new guidelines. But Dorfman said the recommendations by RAND and the NAS, which has recommended multiple methods of identifying under-representation, identified a wider swathe of industries that the law would apply to. Dorfman said the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, which has fought for the implementation of the changes, will be returning to court to contest the regulations on January 28.