WIPP Works in Washington: Congress Returns to Important Work for Women Entrepreneurs
Friday, September 2, 2016
WIPP Works in Washington
Congress Returns to Important Work for Women Entrepreneurs
By: Ann Sullivan, WIPP’s Chief Advocate
The days are getting shorter, the evenings are getting cooler and Congressional staffers are trickling back into the Nation’s Capital. August – the traditional get-away month for DC folks – has ended. Congress is returning to Washington with a full slate of business waiting on their desks and an election looming just around the corner.
This scene plays out every year, but 2016 is presenting Congress with a time crunch that only comes around every four years. Just 23 workdays remain for Senators and only 17 for House Members until Congress leaves the Capitol again as campaigning for both Presidential and Congressional races will consume the entire month of October.
With so little time left and an election providing serious uncertainty, what will Congress tackle first?
Funding the government on time has become a bridge too far for Congress in recent years. In fact, Congress has not passed all twelve spending bills since 1994. At this point, regular order would be most irregular. Right now, not one appropriations bill has made it to the President’s desk and the September 30th fiscal year end is fast approaching.
Given this situation, a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps last year’s funding levels in place while the House and Senate try to work out a deal seems imminent. The question is: How long will the CR last? Congress could fund the government through the election and return in November for the infamous “lame duck” session to complete their work for the year. The projected outcome of the elections, both Presidential and Congressional, will weigh heavily on how Congress chooses to tackle this responsibility.
Also on Congress’ to-do list is the NDAA, the annual defense authorization bill. It has been passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the President for 54 consecutive years and I do not see that streak coming to end this year. It’s unlikely, however, that Congress will be able to come to a deal to merge the House version with the Senate’s before the election in November. Major disagreements over policy provisions and the use of a special war funding account to pay for the Pentagon’s programs are standing in the way. Not to mention that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, is facing a re-election campaign that some pundits are labeling the toughest of his career. Despite all of these obstacles, too much is at stake — especially for women entrepreneurs – to fail to pass this legislation.
The House version of the NDAA contains important improvements to the Women’s Business Center program. It would raise the funding authorization level by 50% from $14.5M to $21.75M, increase grants to individual centers and streamline program rules. This is a major win for women entrepreneurs as WBCs provide some of the most cost-effective training and technical assistance – a key driver of growth for women-owned businesses.
The NDAA also has important reforms for women-owned federal contractors. The bill would establish a pilot program to allow subcontractors to seek past-performance credit, dedicate additional resources at agencies for small business contractors and improve small business goal reporting. These are all positive changes that will expand access to federal markets for women entrepreneurs.
Congress’ work is never completed. There is always more to be done and it is easy to lose sight of important reforms and program improvements with a high-stakes election just weeks away. Advocacy on the part of WIPP members will be extremely critical during this time to keep Congress focused on our priorities.