WOSBs – 8(m) is not 8(a)

One of the set-aside categories recognized on FedBizOpps is the 8(a) small business.  Ask anyone in federal government what categories exist for set asides and this will come to front of mind very quickly.  However, ask that same person what the program does and you may get a different answer.  That is NOT the reason for this blog (let’s deal with it another time).

Here, we are talking about the 8(m) program.  8(m) you ask?  That would be the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) set-aside section of the Small Business Reauthorization Act of 2000.  There are some key differences between the 8(a) and 8(m) programs:

  • The 8(a) program allows sole-source set-asides; all 8(m) program set-asides have competition.
  • The 8(m) program is limited to certain industries.
  • Firm owners do not have to be economically disadvantaged to be in the 8(m) program (unless they are participating as an Economically Disadvantaged WOSB [EDWOSB]).
  • There is no minimum amount of time for 8(m) businesses to have been in operation, unlike 8(a).

Since 2000, administrations have had a tough time enacting the program.  Finally, in 2011 the Small Business Administration (SBA) kicked off the WOSB set-aside program.  The program allows government agencies to classify certain contract opportunities as set-aside for eligible WOSBs.  The program enables WOSBs to compete when they normally have found it difficult to compete with large contractors for government business.  As with any set-aside, the primary benefit is a smaller pool of competition.

Since 2000, agencies have had a hard time reaching the annual goal of five percent of contracting dollars going to WOSBs because no set-aside program existed like those for SDVOSB or HUBzone companies (more on these another time too).  The WOSB set-aside program aims at reducing that burden on agencies.

Under the program, contracting officers can choose to set aside contracts for WOSBs if the contracts meet a certain set of requirements:

  • The NAICS code assigned to the solicitation must be in an industry in which WOSBs (for a WOSB set-aside) are substantially underrepresented.
  • There is a reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs will submit an offer (known as the “rule of two”).
  • The award price, including options, cannot exceed the statutory thresholds of $6.5 million for manufacturing or $4 million for other contracts.

In order to participate, WOSBs must:

  • Meet small business size standards for primary NAICS code and contract
  • Be at least 51% owned by women who are U.S. citizens
  • Have a female owner who:
    • holds the highest officer position
    • works full-time during normal working hours
    • manages the day-to-day operations, and
    • makes the long-term decisions for the business.

Although the rules seem stringent on the face, there are no easy small business categories anymore and the pool of contractors in this area can be very small depending on your NAICS code.  If you are a woman and you own a business and you can offer something to the government – go for it!

About Marty Herbert

With 13 years of government contract administration, analysis, finance, and audit experience, I have established a firm baseline in ethics and a specialization in government contracts that has prepared me to become a subject matter expert in my field. I am currently working on enhancing government contracts management and compliance through workflow tools and product offerings - attempting to make the process proactive as opposed to reactive.
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