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Confusion Over WOSB Certification: Answers to FAQs To Assist Your Business

Monday, April 4, 2016  
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Confusion Over WOSB Certification: Answers to FAQs To Assist Your Business

by Ann Sullivan, WIPP's Chief Advocate

When speaking to groups of women business owners, regardless of where or when, they express confusion on the state of the certification process for the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) procurement program.  Women often say that they receive conflicting information and differing opinions from SBA district offices, vendors who offer third party certification, organizations and OSDBUs at the agencies.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is deliberately trying to deceive women business owners, it means that those unfamiliar with the way things work in Washington are giving inaccurate information. 


The information given in this article is based on our intimate knowledge of the law and the regulatory process with respect to this program.  After all, we have been responsible for moving this program forward and making it work for fifteen years—so we are claiming credibility on this issue without hesitation.


Fact:  Self-certification and third-party certification remain options in the program until SBA changes its regulations.  Since the program was implemented in 2011, women can either self-certify by submitting the proper documentation to the SBA repository or choose to certify through a third party.  SBA approved four vendors for third-party certification:  the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC), the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Women’s Business Border Center. 


Why the confusion?  Because the law that allowed for sole source contracts also included a requirement that at some point in the future, SBA must create a certification program that does not allow for self-certification.  You can read the language of the law here.

As you can see from the law, the SBA can choose to go a number of different directions, such as accept state certifications, certifications from other federal agencies, keep third party certification or decide to start their own SBA WOSB certification. 


What is the status of the change?  Congress passes laws—agencies implement them through regulation.  So, even though Congress passed this particular change to the program in 2014, the SBA has to implement it in order to take effect.  The regulatory process looks like this: 


  1. The SBA issues an ANPRM (Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking), which it did on December 18, 2015.  This means the agency is gathering more information from stakeholders before it proposes a regulation. 
  2. The agency reviews this information, circulates it internally and government-wide for comments and prepares a Proposed Rule.  The proposed rule puts forward a suggested path of action and asks the public to comment on it. Generally speaking, there is a comment period of 60-90 days.
  3. The agency then reviews the comments and issues either a request for more comments or proceeds to a Final Rule. The Final Rule usually has 30-60 day waiting period before it goes into effect. 


The SBA issued an ANPRM on this program change in December, but, since the law does not specify a timetable for when the agency needs to push forward, there is no projected date on when the SBA will finalize this change.   


What does this mean for certified WOSBs currently in the program?  No change.  WOSBs that are certified, either self or 3rd party, are still consider certified. The possible grandfathering of these firms into any new system is a topic of the ANPRM (step 1 above).


What does this mean for WOSBs not currently in the program? The two options – self-certification or 3rd party certification with the vendors listed above –

remain open to WOSBs.


Besides certification, are there any new changes to the WOSB program?  Yes.  The SBA is creating a new portal, called “SBA One” for all small business certifications. Women and the first small business group to be added to the new portal and is now where all women will go through to certify.  Eventually, the other certification programs will be added to use this portal. 

The SBA has closed the repository for this new upgrade.  When it reopens as SBA One, all women will have to create a new account for the portal.  For more information on this change, go to


Important to note:  Women in the program who are in the process of winning opportunities should tell agencies who need to check their EDWOSB/WOSB status to contact the SBA at:  SBA will verify the information during this time period.  Be sure to go to the website above for detailed information.


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