The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has done less business in recent years with firms run by women and minorities, an official told the City Council this week.
SDOT’s use of Women- and Minority-owned Business Enterprises (WMBE) has declined dramatically since 2009 despite an ongoing, citywide effort to reduce race and gender disparities in government.
WMBEs accounted for just 11 percent of SDOT consultant spending as of July 1 this year, down from 23 percent in 2009, Nancy Locke, Seattle’s director of Purchasing and Contract Services, told the council Tuesday.
Such businesses received 7 percent of the agency’s purchasing dollars as of July 1, compared with 19 percent in 2009.
SDOT is one agency among many, and other departments have posted consistent WMBE gains.
Seattle City Light’s consultant use has steadily increased from 3 percent in 2005 to 17 percent, and its WMBE purchasing rate has climbed from 5 percent to 17 percent.
The Department of Neighborhoods boasts a 92 percent consultant-spending rate and a 69 percent purchasing rate.
But SDOT accounts for a large share of Seattle’s overall spending and its struggles have dampened the city’s progress overall, Locke said.
SDOT began spending less on WMBEs primarily because it moved from smaller, bundled contracts to larger, more comprehensive contracts, Locke said, citing the downtown waterfront seawall reconstruction project as an example.
WMBEs are generally less competitive in bidding on large contracts because they tend to be smaller business with narrower expertise.
This year, SDOT has attempted to use more WMBEs as subcontractors and its 11 percent consultant rate is a significant increase over July 2013, Locke said.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the transportation committee, said the council would press SDOT director nominee Scott Kubly on the issue as it discusses his confirmation this month.