On January 12, 2012, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) issued an interim final rule amending certain regulations governing the Women-Owned Small Business (“WOSB”) Program. These amendments to threshold amounts and protest procedures make the WOSB Program more consistent with other SBA government contracting programs. Given the public benefit of consistency in small business programs, SBA found good cause to publish the changes in an interim final rule, as opposed to a proposed rule, and made the rule effective from the date of publication.

The WOSB Program, which was established by a final rule issued on October 7, 2010, authorizes contracting officers to set aside contracts for WOSBs and economically disadvantage women-owned small businesses (“EDWOSBs”) in certain industries where such concerns are shown to be underrepresented. To qualify as a WOSB, a business concern must be at least 51 percent unconditionally and directly owned by at least one woman who is a U.S. citizen. WOSB qualifications also require one or more women to control the management and daily business operations of the business concern. To qualify as an EDWOSB, a business concern must meet the same requirements as a WOSB and demonstrate that the owner or owners’ ability to compete in business has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities. Further, an EDWOSB owner’s personal net worth, adjusted gross yearly income averaged over the three years, and asset fair market value cannot exceed $750,000, $350,000, and $6 million, respectively.

Originally, under the WOSB Program, contracting officers could restrict competition for federal contracts not exceeding $5 million for manufacturing contracts and $3 million for all other contracts. The interim final rule changed those amounts to $6.5 million and $4 million, respectively, to be consistent with other SBA regulations. In addition, the interim final rule acknowledges the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council’s authority to adjust competitive thresholds for inflationary adjustments. These changes allow WOSBs and EDWSOBs to obtain larger contracts to grow their businesses.

In addition, under the interim final rule, contracting officers may now proceed with a contract award during the course of a protest, if necessary to protect the public interest, without having to make such a determination in writing. It also allows contracting officers to move forward with contract awards if the SBA does not respond concerning the status determination of the WOSB or EDWSOB filing the protest within 15 days from receipt of the protest. These changes allow contracting officers to award contracts more easily in protest situations.

Comments on the interim final rule are due by February 13, 2012.