Awaiting confirmation, Walsh doubles down on including minorities and women in Boston contracts


While Boston Mayor Marty Walsh awaits a full Senate vote to decide if he will become President Joe Biden’s Labor Department secretary, a recent dustup over his city’s contracts for women- and minority-owned businesses illustrates how he may approach the issue at the federal level.

It also shows the challenges Biden faces as the confirmation of his full Cabinet drags on, with just 13 of 23 positions filled. Last week, Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget over past controversial tweets.   

The issue in Boston goes back to 2018, when Walsh’s administration commissioned an outside consultant to analyze the city’s contracting award practices. Last month, Walsh released the results of the study, which showed that just 2.5% of $2.2 billion of city contracts and procurements were awarded to minority-owned businesses. Women-owned firms did slightly better, receiving 8.5%.

But both groups were underrepresented as a whole, because minority-owned businesses account for 5.7% of available firms and women-owned companies represent 11.2% in Boston. The study’s results prompted three community groups to file a federal complaint alleging discrimination in the city’s contracting practices.

“Every day that the city fails to act, it perpetuates a public contracting system that excludes qualified minority business enterprises (MBEs) from equal opportunity,” the suit reads.

New goals set

In response, Walsh, a former union organizer, issued an executive order setting explicit goals for the city to award 10% of contracts and procurement spending to minority-owned businesses and 15% to women-owned businesses, or 25% in total. Those ratios exceeded the recommendations in the study, which suggested the city award 16.9% of its dollars to those two groups combined.

Walsh reportedly set the initial ratios in line with the study’s lower recommendations, but later raised them to the combined 25% after the lawsuit was filed, according to the Boston Business Journal.

In a news release, Walsh’s administration outlined how it would meet those goals by:

  • Developing uniform procurement procedures for all city departments.
  • Including specific goals in contracts.
  • Tracking progress toward the goals via reporting in the annual budget process.
  • Establishing a supplier diversity program to oversee the implementation of the goals.  

We launched the first disparity study in a generation because we needed an independent and objective analysis before we could legally establish goals that will help us level the playing field for minority- and woman-owned businesses,” Walsh said in a statement. “With the study now complete, we look forward to enacting meaningful reform and policy changes that will bolster opportunities for underrepresented businesses.”

At the same news conference, Walsh announced he would allocate $2 million to the supplier diversity program to offer technical assistance, training and mentoring to minority and women-owned businesses.

Walsh’s nomination for Labor secretary was approved by a Senate committee Feb. 11 by a vote of 18-4, and has been sent to the full Senate. A full vote has not yet been scheduled, however.

With former President Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment trial and a new COVID-19 relief package dominating the Senate schedule, approval of Biden’s Cabinet picks is on track to roll out slower than in any of the last four administrations, according to the Christian Science Monitor. 


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