Procurement Offers an Important Tool for State and Local Workforce Systems to Advance Racial Equity

By Renise Walker

Achieving more equitable outcomes through procurement can seem daunting, but there are simple steps state and local workforce agencies can take to get started.

In the United States, $1 trillion is spent each year by state and local governments on goods and services, with $79 billion spent by public workforce systems on educational programs. With some effort, procurement using these funds can be an important lever to increase the diversity of organizations providing goods and services, incentivize equitable treatment of workers and strengthen the delivery of goods and services to historically excluded communities–all of which advances equity.

Why is it important to reconsider how procurement is used? Currently, government spending is not distributed equally. Too often, exclusionary practices prevent organizations led by people of color and other underrepresented groups from receiving public grants and contracts, and funding ends up distributed to a small pool of organizations that have learned to navigate the complex maze of government policies and practices. While the status quo of government procurement poses problems, it also provides significant opportunity.

In May, the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) hosted a training to equip procurement and project staff with simple practices that could improve equitable outcomes from grants funded by ARPA stimulus dollars to more effectively include communities of color, individuals with disabilities and other historically excluded populations in the public grant making process. While procurement rules can seem immoveable and daunting, there are straightforward steps agencies can take that help simplify the process and improve services to communities that are often underrepresented in vendor selection and public grant making. Here is what we learned:

  1. Start Early

Ensuring a more inclusive procurement process takes time and planning. Start your planning efforts with ample time to promote the funding availability, engage your focus population in the development of the funding opportunity and allow prospective applicants sufficient time to prepare their applications. Where possible, hire or partner with someone to support applicants in successfully navigating the procurement process.

Achieving more equitable outcomes in the procurement process can be achieved in two major ways:

  1. Increasing diversity of organizations providing goods and services

This recent report by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab is a valuable resource for anyone looking to get started in retooling their procurement practices.

2. Reduce Barriers

Increasing the diversity of organizations providing goods and services is the practice of reducing barriers to organizations that want access to government dollars. Grant applications can be a lengthy and confusing process, and oftentimes more established and well-resourced organizations have advantages in the process. Simple steps can be taken to make the process easier to navigate — and there are already many examples of those leading the way.

  • Tulsa, OK simplified their solicitations and hosted webinars to increase vendor participation.

3. Focus on Better Results for All

Delivering more equitable services is associated with the implementation of workforce development programming. Bringing an equity lens to procurement processes allows workforce leaders to open up funding to new networks of vendors, increase competition, evaluate programs to better understand their outcomes and change funding decisions to better serve their states and localities. Notable leaders pushing this work forward include:

  • Boulder, CO held contractors accountable for performance across neighborhoods.

Government organizations interested in improving their procurement equity should review these case studies and consider which approach may result in the most impactful changes for their grantees, vendors, and populations served.

(Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash)

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Renise Walker serves as the Assistant Director of Systems Innovation for the Colorado Workforce Development Council and a 2021–2022 Workforce Fellow with Results for America. @renisewalker

About the Colorado Workforce Development Council

The Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) is a Governor-appointed, public-private partnership with the purpose to advise, oversee, and integrate the work of the Colorado talent development network. Its vision is that every Colorado employer has access to a skilled workforce and every Coloradan has the opportunity for meaningful employment, resulting in individual and statewide economic prosperity.

To learn more, visit cwdc.colorado.gov or follow on Twitter @the_cwdc.

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