In 2014, the City of Philadelphia took a million dollars and devoted it to streamlining the procurement process. Why? Because how governments buy goods and services from the private sector can be clunky.
Funded by a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, the FastFWD project became a startup accelerator, a bold idea and a sizable bet on startups as a potential remedy to the city’s problems. Instead of the lowest bidder, why not value the innovation a startup may offer? Maybe it was more risky than going with the sure thing, but the upside was there. And it was supporting local, impact-minded ventures. Plus, it was grant money.
A few months ago, however, when we spoke to Story Bellows — the former director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics — she told us the problem hadn’t received enough support or attention by the time Mayor Michael Nutter left office. You could support social enterprises or you could fix procurement, but maybe you couldn’t do both at the same time.
Well, fast forward to now and city officials are taking another hack at procurement. And this time it’s City Council that’s getting wonky.
Councilman Bobby Henon introduced a bill last week that aims to help Philly small businesses.
“The procurement process has long been a complicated and frustrating process for businesses that want to apply to city contracts,” said Henon. “This package of legislation will help streamline the process.”
Unsurprisingly, it plans to do that with the help of tech, starting with a online vendor registry that will reduce the number of forms women- and minority-owned businesses have to fill out. The current procedure makes vendors apply for the certifications individually.
For transparency’s sake, the legislation will also require the city to keep RFPs published online five years after awarding the contracts. This process, Henon hopes, will let vendors review previous RFPs and winning bids to strengthen future applications.
Since the bill was presented on Council’s last session before summer break, further discussion on the content of the legislation package won’t resume until September.
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