By Maria D. Quiñones Sánchez
'Rebuild" - Mayor Kenney's $700 million initiative to make improvements in parks, playgrounds, libraries, and rec centers - is coming soon to neighborhoods around Philadelphia.
As the city works to identify priority projects and creates a new bureaucracy to administer these investments, we must take advantage of this opportunity to finally attack the problem of much-needed procurement reform in Philadelphia.
Currently, the administration is considering contracting with one non-profit partner to administer Rebuild, instead of keeping the projects within our existing capital projects system. While nonprofit partners have a vital role to play, it is a mistake to outsource this initiative to just one entity.
The city spends a lot of money, and we're looking to spend more. In addition to the $700 million Rebuild, we have a $9.7 billion five-year capital plan; multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments planned for the airport and Water Department; and more than $1 billion is spent annually on goods and services.
The way we spend those dollars can have a tremendous impact in our neighborhoods, our business community, and our job market. Unfortunately, right now the rules that govern how we spend that money do not support our shared goals of efficiency, diversity, and inclusion.
Instead of using our investments to build communities, we practice business as usual and maintain the status quo. The vast majority of the work goes to the few big, savvy contractors who can navigate the process, and small businesses are largely shut out.
We need to make major changes to bring fairness and clarity to this process. Here's how:
Prioritize project management: The groundbreaking is only the beginning - after the ceremonial shovels are put away, neighbors are too often left with a project that drags on, over budget, and months or years past deadline. This is why we have a years-long capital projects backlog now. To change this, we should institute project management requirements to hold contractors accountable to the city and to the community. This is where our private and nonprofit sector partners can bring their expertise to ensure compliance and accountability in these projects.
Welcome more small businesses as city contractors: Small businesses do exceptional work in every city neighborhood every single day. If we create supports to bring them into this process, they can compete with the big guys, creating jobs and wealth in their communities. We can be more welcoming to small contractors by debundling oversized contracts into manageable smaller ones, and developing insurance, bonding, and financing umbrellas to help them meet the cash-flow and back-office demands of participating in the city procurement process.
Develop diversity in the building trades: City Council's 2015 Annual Disparity Study showed us that the growth in certified minority- and women-owned contractors has not been matched by their participation on city worksites. The diverse workforce is growing, but it isn't being hired. Meanwhile, we continue to exempt contractors from our own diverse workforce requirements, accepting their excuses that there aren't people of color and women who are able to do these jobs.
Comprehensive reform of our procurement system is an ambitious undertaking, but the time is now for bold action. We are fortunate to have in Mayor Kenney a leader with the political will - and a very willing partner in Council - to finally get this done. The voters have entrusted us to manage our government and use resources to help spur economic growth and create jobs. Investing in public works as job-creation strategy has a proud history in our country and, if we do this right, Rebuild and our capital projects could be a transformative jobs program for Philadelphia.