Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

A recent Small Business Administration ruling may make it more attractive for women-owned businesses to get certified to compete on the federal level.

Federal agencies can now award sole-source contracts to eligible certified Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) or Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSBs).

This means the agencies can negotiate contracts with these businesses without putting the work out to bid, provided certain conditions are met.

"I hope it will inspire more women-owned businesses to become certified and provide their services to federal agencies," says Erica Chase-Gregory, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College, which helps businesses self-certify as a WOSB or EDWOSB.

Self-certification. Firms can self-certify by completing an application online and providing supporting financial documents, or they can get certified by an SBA-approved third party for a fee.

The business center's service is free, notes Ritu Wackett, senior adviser at the SBDC at Stony Brook University. "We're here as a resource," she says.

The criteria for a business to be certified include being at least 51 percent directly owned and controlled by one or more women, Wackett says. (See bit.ly/LIwomen.)

There's still a process to go through, but the new ruling "makes the competitive field much smaller," Chase-Gregory says. Businesses still have to show the government they can do the job, she says.

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Some criteria. Under the ruling, a WOSB or EDWOSB can be awarded a sole-source contract of up to $4 million (or up to $6.5 million for a manufacturing contract) provided: the WOSB or EDWOSB is a responsible contractor; the contracting officer doesn't have a reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs or EDWOSBs will submit offers; and the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price, explains Steven Koprince, managing partner at Koprince Law LLC, a Lawrence, Kansas firm focused on small business and federal contracts.

The contracting officer would still have to do market research, says Ken Dodds, SBA director of policy, planning and liaison for the Office of Government Contracting and Business Development in Washington.

Still, Kim Orrison, founder and CEO of Kimco Group Inc., a mechanical construction firm in West Babylon, thinks the new process will open up opportunities for her and other women-owned firms.

"This is a huge win for women-owned contractors or women that want to contract with the federal marketplace," says Orrison, a member of Women Impacting Public Policy, whose own firm is EDWOSB-certified. This new ruling will prompt her to pursue even more federal contracts, she says.

Codes apply. Sole-source awards would still be limited to the same North American Industry Classification System codes under which WOSB and EDWOSB set-asides, or contract goals, are authorized, Koprince says. The codes are being evaluated to see if any changes will be made, Dodds says.

Koprince notes Congress eliminated the language allowing self-certification when it passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act in December. But Dodds says a new certification program for WOSBs and EDWOSBs is in the works and until then it's business as usual.

"Statutes are generally broad, but the agency sets out the actual requirements, procedures and process through a public rule-making process that can take one year or more," he notes.

In the meantime, the ruling is being touted as a win.

"I think it will definitely open up more opportunities for women-owned businesses," Wackett says.