Civic News
Data / Municipal government

See how much the city spends on ‘paperclips, parks and fire engines’

Philadelphians can now get a fuller picture of what exactly the city spends its money on.

Procurement data shows what the city spends on projects like this. (Photo by Mitchell Leff for the City of Philadelphia)

The city just released data on how much it spends on “paperclips, parks and fire engines.” That’s City Hall shorthand for commodities, or purchases made through the Procurement Department: supplies, equipment, public works and “non-professional services.”
Think: police motorcycles, pest-control services and fixing up recreation centers (that’s public works). The data spans from Q1 in FY 2014 to Q2 in FY 2015.
See the data
This is different from what’s known as “professional services,” which include legal services, subscriptions to online databases and software development. The city began releasing that data in the spring of 2014 and has continued to release it quarterly. That data is controlled by the Finance Department, while the “paperclips, parks and fire engines” data is controlled by the Procurement Department. That’s why the city released this data separately.
The data does leave something to be desired when it comes to exactly what each contract is for. For example, during the current quarter of FY2015, the city has a $12.9 million contract with Dell Marketing and the description is “DELL MARKETING L PBid # 00002819.” That description is taken straight from the city’s data, said Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski, meaning that, somehow, that’s what city employees see and use, too.
If you want to get more information about a contract, you have to call the Procurement Department’s Customer Service Unit at 215-686-4720 or email to schedule an appointment to review the contract in person, as per the FAQ.
The data release is also timed with the city’s hiring of a technology procurement advocate, a position that was created to streamline the procurement process and make it easier for small and midsize businesses to get city contracts. Procurement reform has been a pet project of the Nutter administration’s, as seen with its Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed FastFWD accelerator, the launch of small contract website Big Ideas PHL and the creation of the technology procurement advocate role.

Companies: City of Philadelphia

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