Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration is stepping up its efforts to open up more opportunities for City Hall business to women- and minority-owned contractors to help address historically low diversity among the city’s mix of suppliers.
Walsh announced an executive order on Friday that included a number of key steps: training for employees and departments that handle procurement, requiring employees to verify they’ve used a city-managed procurement database when soliciting bids, and mandating that diverse contracting be considered at the start of the budget process every year.
And the administration plans to improve access to its databases to make it easier for minority- and women-owned businesses to find opportunities, and for city employees to more quickly identify potential bidders.
“Every time a department goes to purchase something, we are going to ask them what vendors they’ve solicited [to] ensure they are identifying businesses from the directory,” said Emme Handy, Walsh’s chief financial officer.
Walsh also has established a supplier diversity council that will meet for the first time next Friday. The mayor plans to sign the executive order at that meeting.
These mark the latest steps that Walsh has taken to diversify the city’s contracting base, as a way of sharing the wealth of city business in a more equitable manner.
Still, the mayor has come under fire for the city’s historically low rate of contracting with minority businesses. The latest figures from City Hall show 5.3 percent of the city’s $669 million in discretionary contracts went to minority- and women-owned businesses in the fiscal year that ended on June 30. That’s up from 4.5 percent in the previous year.
Earlier numbers showed a nearly 2 percent participation rate for 2018, but the Walsh administration has since adjusted those figures to reflect state-certified minority- and women-owned enterprises that were not previously certified with the city.
“We have a goal to make sure Boston’s procurement process is fully accessible and fair,” said John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief. “We recognize there are some things we can improve on as a whole as a city.”
A coalition of activist groups sent a letter to Walsh and Barros in August, criticizing the administration’s procurement efforts as inadequate. In that letter, the group pointed to much higher participation rates for diverse contractors in other cities: New York (19 percent), Chicago (29 percent), Philadelphia (31 percent), Memphis (18 percent), and Charlotte (19 percent).
“The minority business community doesn’t need more executive orders,” said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director with Lawyers for Civil Rights. “We need to see results. . . . We need aggressive steps to open up the old boys’ network that is diverting millions of dollars every year from qualified minority-owned businesses in the city.”
As for this latest effort by Walsh, Sellstrom said he was unimpressed.
“The mayor’s response is much too weak, given the depths of the problem,” Sellstrom said.
Private-sector efforts are also under way. For example, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts is holding an event called the “2019 Massachusetts Black Expo” at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The two-day event, which began on Friday, is aimed at giving black-owned businesses the opportunity to pitch to procurement officers in the private and public sectors.