King County logo

King County logo

Auditors find racial disparities in King County contracts

BIPOC-owned businesses earn contract bids at a much lower rate than white-owned businesses.

Auditors have identified significant racial and gender disparities in the way King County awards contracts to private firms.

King County disproportionately contracted with white-owned small businesses while under-contracting with Black-owned and Latinx/Hispanic-owned small businesses.

After state law banned race-based preferential treatment in contracting in 1998, the county started its Small Contractor and Supplier program, a race-neutral initiative focused on small businesses.

As of August 2020, there are more than 1,800 firms that meet the qualifications of a small contractor or supplier. The qualifications are that the owner’s net worth must not exceed $1.32 million and that the business income and staff size must not exceed 50% of federal standards.

The audit found that Black and Latinx/Hispanic-owned firms made up 12% and 6% of the small contractors and suppliers, respectively, but were only awarded 7% and 3% of the county contracts.

In contrast, white-owned firms make up 65% of small contractors, but were awarded 75% of the countywide contracts.

Auditors identified this disparity as a “significant statistical difference.”

Additionally, Black, Indigenous and people of color-owned businesses were awarded 25% of 86 contract bids, while white-owned businesses won 38% of 167 contract bids from the summer of 2015 until the summer of 2020.

In the same time frame, Black-owned businesses were only given 17% of their 33 contract bids, while all the other BIPOC businesses won bids at a much higher rate despite making fewer bids.

In 2019, King County awarded $2.1 billion in contracts. King County’s strategic equity goals include expanding contracting opportunities to businesses owned by minorities and women. While Washington state law prohibits preferential treatment in contracting, it allows agencies to set voluntary goals for contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses.

The state attorney general has interpreted state law to allow for some race and gender conscious measures in contracting, so long as they do not favor a less-qualified contractor over a more-qualified one, according to the audit.

County agencies have worked to increase outreach to minority and women-owned business enterprises, but the county has not done a disparity study that could lead to more targeted efforts, according to the audit.

Auditors recommended that the county “clarify roles and responsibilities for increasing opportunities for [minority and women-owned businesses], create specific, measurable targets for strategic equity goals, reduce barriers to contracting and increase access to resources that increase staff capacity to implement pro-equity contracting countywide.”

The auditors also said they believe there is no way to hold equity goals accountable without a mechanism or governing body to do so.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Screenshot taken from Rosa Parks Elementary School website.
Eastside school wins National Blue Ribbon honors

Rosa Parks Elementary School in Redmond is the only Washington school to win.

Screenshot taken of a King County video showing Wilburton Trestle
King County’s Eastside to receive major multi-modal transportation investment

Private and public investors will help build a regional biking and walking trail to mitigate traffic

Co-owners Sarah Cassidy and Luke Woodward stand in front of The Grange (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
Co-owners Sarah Cassidy and Luke Woodward stand in front of The Grange (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
How a King County restaurant and farm work together to make a true farm-to-table experience

The Grange prepares sustainably produced meals pulled from the soil of the Snoqualmie Valley.

NW Carpenters Union members strike in front of downtown Bellevue construction site (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
Carpenters union strike interupts some prominent Eastside construction projects

Union representative says members are prepared to strike “as long as it takes.”

Map of proposed landfill expansion sites (screenshot from King County website)
Waste management expert knocks county’s plan to expand landfill

The waste management advocate said the decision to expand seems pre-determined despite assessment.

Participants in fundraiser previous event (courtesy of Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter)
Walk To End Alzheimer’s returns to Eastside on Sept. 25

Alzheimer’s Association moves forward with plans for an in-person event.

Pixabay photo
Union carpenters to go on strike, expected to impact Eastside Microsoft projects

Members authorized strike after rejecting AGC offer for the fourth time.

file photo
The state’s hospitals face “unprecedented collapse” amid COVID uptick warn healthcare unions

Union spokeperson says understaffing was a problem even before the pandemic.

Most Read