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Women-Owned Small Businesses Snubbed by U.S. Energy Department

The U.S. Energy Department is almost a blackout for women-owned small businesses.

Those companies attracted about 1 percent, or $305 million, of direct contracts in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 — making the department the worst performer in that area among the top 10 federal contracting agencies, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Most of the Energy Department’s $25 billion in direct awards last year went to top vendors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), Bechtel Group Inc., URS Corp. (URS) and Babcock & Wilcox Co.

“We’re out there. We’re waving our arms,” said Jennifer Dickerson, owner of EnRep Inc., an Orlando, Florida-based company that provides environmental and safety consulting services. “We’re ready, but the department isn’t ready.”

The Obama administration stepped in two years ago to help boost women by allowing agencies to set aside contracts for their small businesses. The effort hasn’t gone far at the Energy Department, which reserved six of more than 13,000 awards for such companies last year. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has also struggled, setting aside just one.

The set-aside program is still going through a “ramp-up period,” Michele Chang, deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said in a phone interview.

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