Boston’s Urgent Need to Diversify Public Contracts

BizGrow, Economic Justice

Almost a year ago, following the release of a comprehensive study showing that the City of Boston was spending less than 2% of its contracting dollars on minority-owned businesses, the City promised to implement “the most structural reform city contracting has had in over a generation.”  Then-Mayor Walsh issued an Executive Order to much fanfare, committing to “rigorous work” to rectify these gross and racialized disparities that unlawfully divert millions of dollars each year from communities of color.

The cornerstone of the City’s promise was to set contract-specific goals for participation of minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs).  Yet as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Executive Order, records obtained by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) show:

  • The promised Plan to set contract-specific goals on City contracts – which the Executive Order stated would be “created and implemented within six months” – still does not exist.
  • Only one contract over the past year has included contract-specific goals. And that contract only set a goal of 2.4% for MBE participation, amounting to approximately $184,800.  

Lawyers for Civil Rights is disappointed in the City of Boston’s paltry adherence to its 2021 promise to increase M/WBE participation in City contracts through its Supplier Diversity Program. The inaction has resulted in stagnant progress in diversifying public contracts. This information is disheartening and concerning, as the City has continuously failed to award public contracts to M/WBEs

As a new administration takes hold of this effort, LCR commends Mayor Michelle Wu and her administration for some promising steps forward, such as implementing a sheltered market program so early in her term, appointing a recognized leader on MBE issues (Segun Idowu) as Chief of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion, and  responding promptly to LCR’s public records request for M/WBE data.

Still, much more needs to be done – and urgently. Initial data reviewed by LCR indicates only marginal growth in M/WBE participation, figures we are now working to confirm and further evaluate.  In the meantime, we renew our call for the City of Boston to voluntarily resolve our pending federal civil rights complaint – rather than continue to fight and delay meaningful reform to support M/WBEs.

LCR will also continue to push the Wu administration to dedicate more contracts to M/WBEs and to set contract-specific goals for M/WBE participation. For too long, the City has failed to take meaningful action, but LCR and our community partners remains at the forefront of the fight to dismantle the barriers that exclude M/WBEs from municipal contracts.