We planned a series on The Inclusion Dividend, and we’ll get back to that next post — but we discovered a stunning article about the SBA’s new WOSB (women owned small business) certification that merits comment. Fierce Government reports that NASA audited their fiscal 2010 contracts awarded to self-certified WOSB firms and found that 35 percent falsely self-certified. For these 35 percent, auditors say that “in every instance, our review found evidence that daily business operations were actually controlled and managed by the male spouse of the purported business owner.”

This article makes us absolutely furious for a number of reasons:

  • Perhaps it is disingenuous to say we abhor the dishonesty and lack of integrity of companies that falsely self-certify. But there it is … these companies and people are lying to the federal government. Their lies could well be viewed as theft of taxpayer dollars and theft of opportunity from legitimate WOSBs. It would be gratifying to hear that they will be punished in some way for their willful abuse of the WOSB program, but we’re not holding our breath.
  • Our business has been women owned and operated since its inception in 1983. As such, we’ve encountered both prejudice and suspicion regarding our WBE (women business enterprise) designation for three decades. Our CEO tells stories with punch lines like “Once it was agreed they wanted the president of the company to sign the contract, the gentlemen in the room were aghast when I whipped out my pen”. These findings by NASA’s auditors shows good reason for market place skepticism of our WOSB designation … and adds another obstacle for legitimate WOSBs to overcome.
  • Our business has been certified by multiple state and private certifying organizations since 1989. Each of these certifications involved a rigorous investigation of our governance and control, plus a site visit or interview with our female owners. It is a fair amount of work to maintain our sixteen state SDWBE (small disadvantaged women business enterprise) and WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) certifications.
  • We have participated in multiple state and federal procurement opportunities. In each case, the agencies conducted due diligence of our claims as a SDWBE bidder BEFORE the award. We wonder what type of investigation NASA or other federal agencies are required to conduct during their purchasing process.
  • 46 years after President Johnson’s amended Executive Order 11246 established the Office of Federal Contract Compliance requiring Federal contractors to make good-faith efforts to expand opportunities for both women and minorities we have to ask “Why is the WOSB a self-certifying program?” We think is should be subject to the same proofs as other federal and state certifications.

Enough already with the whining! What can we do about it? Encourage our SBA, Senators and Congresspeople to require proof of WOSB status. We’re writing our letters.