Diversifying Public Contracts

Economic Justice, Racial Justice

New Data Reveals Progress And Continued Need for Action in Diversifying Public Contracts in Boston

Statement in Response to Latest Figures Regarding Minority- and Women-Business Enterprise Participation in Boston Contracting

The City of Boston presented data on the public contracts awarded during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2020. According to the Boston Globe, about 7% of the $571 million spent went to Minority- and Women-Business Enterprises (M/WBEs), up from less than one percent in 2018.

We are encouraged to see Boston moving toward greater diversity in its public contracts. We applaud the City for this progress. This highlights the tremendous impact that immediate action can have.

More still needs to be done. We note that Boston continues to significantly lag behind many of its peers. New York City achieved 19% M/WBE participation, Chicago reached 29%, and Philadelphia attained 30.7%.

The amount of wealth being lost each year in Boston’s communities of color is astounding. If Boston were to achieve a similar level of M/WBE participation as Philadelphia, for example, that would mean over $100 million additional dollars flowing to Boston’s M/WBE community each year.  

We call on the City to deepen and expand its work with M/WBEs; to strengthen its equity efforts; and to eliminate remaining obstacles that exist for the City’s diverse business community by implementing the recommendations we advocated for in an open letter in August 2019.

Most critically, the City should expedite completion of the “disparity study,” which the City has been without for a decade. Although this critical tool for measuring underutilization of M/WBEs and guiding the City’s policies and reforms has been promised since Mayor Walsh issued an Executive Order in February 2016 stating that the City is “working expeditiously” on its completion, over four years later the residents of Boston have still not seen the results of any such study. The completion of this disparity study is essential as it will provide the factual predicate needed to institute and refine a strong race conscious contracting equity program. The City should complete the disparity study and release it publicly within 30 days.

We also urge the City not to wait until the study is complete before strengthening its current efforts. Ten concrete recommendations are outlined in our letter, including the following proactive and practical solutions that can be successfully and immediately implemented without legal or bureaucratic red tape:

  • Disaggregating today’s data to reflect MBE and WBE participation separately, as a means for city officials, the M/WBE community, and the public to see where progress is being made and where more work needs to be done.
  • Breaking down large prime contracts into smaller pieces that smaller companies can successfully compete for. This also has the advantage of increasing competition, thus resulting in better prices for the City.
  • Establishing small or local business programs that provide incentives and/or subcontracting requirements for small or local businesses. Since M/WBEs are disproportionately small, a small or local business program will often increase M/WBE participation.
  • Creating a publicly accessible dashboard and scorecard for transparency and accountability with respect to progress on M/WBEs, as a means for city officials, the M/WBE community, and the public to see where progress is being made and where more work needs to be done.

The progress announced by the City today shows that increased M/WBE participation is achievable. We applaud. We also urge the City to re-double its efforts to achieve contracting equity by immediately taking the steps outlined above.