SBA Radically Changes Women’s Federal Contracting Program!

March 3, 2016

Women-owned small businesses should see more Contract set–asides

Submitted by David Pease, Program Manager of the New Hampshire PTAC

Effective Wednesday, March 3, SBA has made major changes to the Women’s contracting program. While it is too early to tell what the impact of these changes will be, it is our opinion that the likelihood of the set-aside authority being used, and being used correctly, will increase substantially.

This should mean far more set-aside contracting opportunities for Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB).

The regulations have allowed contract set-asides since 2011for WOSBs, or for WOSBs that also qualified as Economically Disadvantaged (EDWOSB). Only contracts characterized by a specific list of 330 North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) Codes were allowed to be set aside for women, and most (60%) of the permissible codes could only be set–aside for EDWOSB. A basic contracting rule requiring at least two capable and eligible likely bidders, plus the complexity of the rule, made set-asides for either WOSB or EDWOSB very rare indeed.

Congress directed SBA to conduct a new study regarding the assignment of eligible NACIS codes in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, and that work is complete. The result is that SBA has changed its rules with both a substantial increase (from 330 to 445) in the number of eligible NAICS codes, and a pronounced shift from assignments which heavily favored the EDWOSBs over the WOSBs to the reverse. Under the new rule, 365 NAICS codes are eligible for WOSB set-asides – 82% of the total – making many more businesses in far more industries potential beneficiaries of WOSB set-asides.

Since most of the codes are in the WOSB column now, it will make it easier for contracting officers to satisfy “Rule of Two” competition requirements, and thus easier to decide to set-aside for women. All EDWOSB-qualified companies automatically also qualify as WOSB, so they are also likely to benefit from the change.

Details of the Women-Owned Small Business Program can be found at FAR 19.15 Woman-Owned Small Business Program. The section that implements the program, FAR 19.1505(a), references the “SBA-maintained NAICS list”; consequently, no change to the FAR is required to implement these changes, which are effective immediately (3/3/2016).

Helpful references:
Federal Register Vol. 81, No. 42, March 3, 2016 p. 11340-11343
New .pdf tables of the WOSB and EDWOSB NAICS codes can be found at:


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