The Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia (DCPSC) ensures that the utility companies in D.C. deliver reliable and high-quality services at reasonable rates while also helping to achieve the District’s clean energy goals. However, the DCPSC is also committed to creating equitable business opportunities for suppliers in the utility industry. As part of its oversight role, the DCPSC works with utilities to identify and implement best practices that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in contracting and employment. By creating an inclusive business landscape, the DCPSC is empowering suppliers and supporting a thriving and equitable utility industry to benefit the entire community.
The DCPSC executed a revised Memoranda of Understanding with Pepco, Washington Gas, and Verizon in April 2021 to provide diverse suppliers with the maximum opportunity to participate in and compete for contracts and subcontracts in the utility’s supply chain for goods and services that support the utility. Each utility has designated an aspirational goal of 25% diverse spending with District-based businesses. Senior representatives from each utility appear before the DCPSC annually in a legislative-style hearing to detail their utility’s practices related to the use of diverse suppliers.
Through its most recent Supplier Diversity Hearing on July 27, 2023, the DCPSC evaluated the utilities’ commitment to diverse spending and whether they were delivering results that are leading to quantifiable improvements. Of particular importance this year was the issue of commitment versus compliance. The three DCPSC Commissioners wanted to ensure that each utility saw diverse spending thresholds as a starting point for their work, not just a finish line to cross. Introducing the event, At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie highlighted the significance of supplier diversity in promoting equity, inclusion, and economic growth for small and local businesses in the District, and he encouraged utility companies to be even bolder in their investment in minority-owned businesses.
Pepco’s Director of Diverse Business Empowerment, Vernice Lewis, shared her utility’s commitment to supplier diversity and its efforts to foster relationships with diverse suppliers, providing resources, training, and support to enhance their capabilities.
Verizon’s Vice President of State Government Affairs, Douglas Smith, reported on his company’s work in 2022, noting that they invested nearly $10 million in diverse suppliers in the District. Smith mentioned Verizon’s commitment to fostering diversity through initiatives like their Small Business Digital Ready program and Supplier Summit.
Washington Gas’ Senior Director of Business Transformation, Lyndon Dypont, shared that his company achieved record results in 2022, with more than $196 million spent with diverse suppliers, reaching a 30.5% supplier spend. The utility is committed to increasing its supplier base of certified businesses in the district and aiming to achieve a 35% commitment by 2028.
All three utility companies expressed their dedication to supplier diversity and their continuous efforts to improve and surpass diversity goals in their procurement practices. DCPSC Commissioners again emphasized the importance of commitment beyond compliance and encouraged utilities to strive for meaningful and intentional engagement with diverse suppliers.
“Embracing supplier diversity in the utility industry is not just about empowering businesses. It’s about igniting a powerful transformation. By fostering an inclusive ecosystem, we spark innovation, stimulate our local economies, enhance market access, and create a pathway towards a more sustainable and equitable future for everyone,” stated DCPSC Chairman Emile Thompson.
During the hearing, the utilities shared their intentions to actively participate in federal programs and conduct workshops to foster deeper engagement with diverse businesses. They’ve also implemented policies that ensure the inclusion of diverse vendors in bid events, sometimes requiring multiple diverse bidders in specific cases.
They also meet with internal business units to set annual goals and continuously increase them. The utilities engage with external organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce and others, to promote diverse spending.
In terms of workforce development and diversity, the utilities all have robust programs in place to attract, retain, and develop diverse top talent. They have dedicated resources for workforce development and are committed to diversity in their hiring and leadership.
The Supplier Diversity Hearing also aimed to address concerns about the reduced CBE spending in some utilities, and it appears that the utilities are taking steps to address these issues and increase diversity in their spending and workforce.
Preceding the hearing was the inaugural DCPSC Chat & Chew Series event, an informal conversation with DCPSC Commissioners to help create open communication among diverse suppliers and local utilities. The series allows businesses that have worked with the utilities to share their knowledge and experience with those that have not, as well as provides a forum to pose and answer questions. Local businesses interested in attending future Chat & Chew Series events can contact the DCPSC at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 626-5120.
Learn more about the DCPSC Advisory Council on Utility Supplier and Workforce Diversity and watch a full recording of the 2023 Supplier Diversity Hearing at dcpsc.org.