In a November 7, 2014 report the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the SBA performs minimal oversight of third-party certifiers of women-owned small businesses and has yet to develop procedures that provide reasonable assurance that only eligible businesses obtain contracts set-aside for women-owned small businesses.
Businesses have two options to certify their eligibility for the federal government’s women-owned small business (WOSB) program. Whether self-certifying at no cost or using the fee-based services of an approved third-party certifier, businesses must attest that they are a WOSB or an economically disadvantaged women-owned small business (EDWOSB). Businesses also must submit documents supporting their attestation to a repository the Small Business Administration (SBA) maintains (required documents vary depending on certification type), and, if they obtain a third-party certification, to the certifier.
In its examination of the certification process, the GAO found that:
- SBA generally has not reviewed certifier performance or developed or implemented procedures for such reviews, including determining whether certifiers inform businesses of the no-cost self-certification option, a requirement in the agency’s agreement with certifiers.
- SBA also has not completed or implemented procedures to review the monthly reports that third-party certifiers must submit.
In its report, the GAO says that without ongoing monitoring and oversight of the activities and performance of third-party certifiers, the SBA cannot reasonably assure that certifiers fulfill the requirements of the agreement.
This finding is bolstered by the fact that, in 2012 and 2013, the SBA found that more than 40 percent of businesses (that previously received contracts) it examined for program eligibility should not have attested they were WOSBs or EDWOSBs at the time of the SBA’s review. SBA officials speculated about possible reasons for the results, including businesses not providing adequate documentation or becoming ineligible after contracts were awarded, but the SBA has not assessed the results of the examinations to determine the actual reasons for the high numbers of businesses found ineligible. The SBA also has not completed or implemented procedures to conduct eligibility examinations. According to federal standards for internal control, agencies should have documented procedures, conduct monitoring, and ensure that any review findings and deficiencies are resolved promptly. As a result of inadequate monitoring and controls, potentially ineligible businesses may continue to incorrectly certify themselves as WOSBs, increasing the risk that they may receive contracts for which they are not eligible.
The GAO finds that the WOSB program has had a limited effect on federal contracting opportunities available to WOSBs. Set-aside contracts under the program represent less than 1 percent of all federal contract obligations to women-owned small businesses. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and the General Services Administration collectively accounted for the majority of the $228.9 million in set-aside obligations awarded under the program between April 2011 and May 2014. Contracting officers, business owners, and industry advocates with whom GAO spoke identified challenges to program use and suggested potential changes that might increase program use, including allowing sole-source contracts rather than requiring at least two businesses to compete and expanding the list of 330 industries in which WOSBs and EDWOSBs were eligible for a set-aside.
A summary of the GAO’s report can be downloaded at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666430.pdf
The full report can be downloaded at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666431.pdf