While some elected officials are already sounding the alarm over a soon-to-be-released study that reportedly reveals a pattern of disparity in awarding municipal contracts to women- and minority-owned businesses during the first term of Mayor Martin Walsh’s Administration, the city has responded that it’s instead using the findings as a “tool” to help reverse the trend, and to reform its procurement practices accordingly.
Last week, The Boston Globe reported on findings from the 703-page study that analyzed 47,801 city contracts for construction, as well as professional goods and services, from 2014 to 2019, and which determined that only 11 percent of these contracts were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses while only 1.2 percent went to Black- and Latinx-owned businesses. (WGBH, which also received portions of the study prior to its release, reported on its findings last week as well.)
For the study – the first of its kind in 18 years – the city retained BBC Research & Consulting of Denver, Colo., to determine apparent underutilization of qualified minority and women-owned enterprises (M/WBEs) as contractors and subcontractors across all of its departments. The study also includes an analysis that reviewed the legal requirements necessary to successfully implement a minority- and woman-owned business program, while the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development has committed to reallocating $2 million, or 20 percent of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget, to create a new Supplier Diversity Program. This program would oversee the implementation of any accepted recommendations and new initiatives launched in response to findings from the report.
According to a statement from Nick Martin, the city’s Chief Communications Officer: “Our plan in launching the first disparity study in 18 years has always been to use the results as a tool to inform meaningful reform and policy changes that will strengthen the City’s equitable procurement practices and level the playing field to ensure equal access to opportunities. Since the study was first launched in 2018, the Walsh Administration has worked diligently to break down barriers where they exist, and create pathways to ensure the full participation of minority and women-owned businesses in city contracting. While the results of this study are not surprising, they reaffirm our belief that more work needs to be done to institutionalize these practices into the everyday business of city government, and reaffirm our commitment to getting the work done. We look forward to putting forth actionable items in the coming days on how we will get to the root of the issues around disparities in city contracting.”
Martin also said that the still-unreleased report had been “leaked” to the Globe and WBGH last week by a third party, and that the city is now “working to finalize the study and a set of action items in response to the findings.”
Meanwhile, City Councilor and Boston Mayoral Candidate Andrea Campbell said in a statement earlier this week, “To close the profound racial wealth gap and eradicate inequities that make Boston one of the most unequal cities in the country, the City of Boston must lead by example in how we do business. It is a failure of this Administration to not have made more progress toward equity in City contracts when we’ve been talking about it for years.”
Councilor Campbell also released an ambitious economic plan last week that, she wrote, “commits to bold but achievable goals of 7 percent, 14 percent and 20 percent WMBE contracts over the next three years.”
Of the plan, Councilor Campbell wrote, “We can do this by intentionally investing in businesses owned by people of color and women, unbundling large contracts so smaller businesses can apply, streamlining the procurement process to make it easier for [M/WBEs] to submit bids, and increasing the capacity of City personnel to help small businesses navigate the process.”
City Councilor Michele Wu, also in the race to succeed Walsh as Mayor of Boston, co-sponsored a 2017 ordinance that mandates the city to collect more data on its procurement contracts and told the Globe: “We should never use lack of capacity as an excuse as to why we’re not building wealth in communities of color in Boston. The numbers clearly back up we are well below where we could be.”
Walsh, who has served as Mayor of Boston since 2014, could reportedly leave office by the end of the month when he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as President Joe Biden’s incoming labor secretary.