Advocacy groups say the state government in Rhode Island needs to do more to promote hiring of minority- and women-owned enterprises.

In a letter sent Monday to Gov. Dan McKee and other state officials, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights – writing on behalf of the Rhode Island Black Business Association – cites what it calls the distressing under-utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses in state contracting for construction, goods and services.

As evidence, the two groups point to a 2021 study done by a consultant which found that of $900 million in construction purchase orders during the period of the study, firms owned by non-minority men got about 94% of the work, and that minority-owned companies received about 2% “despite being comparable in size, capable and readily available to perform contracts at much higher rates.”

Lawyers for Civil Rights and RIBBA assert the state is violating federal anti-discrimination law by not awarding contracts on a more equitable basis. They call on state officials to immediately increase access, and cite an intention to meet with Attorney General Peter Neronha to discuss the issue.

But Laura Hart, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said the state has made progress on the issue since the 2021 study, which, she said, was not based on the most recent data.

“Governor McKee promoted new mandates, informed by the disparity study, to increase the percentage of state contracts awarded to MBE/WBEs from 10% to 15%; the 15% target is now law,” Hart said via email. “The governor also requested that disparity studies take place every five years,”beginning in fiscal year 2025.

Hart said the state plans to implement new software early next year “specifically to track MBE/WBEs that will increase transparency and accountability.”

As of 2022, she said, 13% of the contracts awarded by DOA went to women- and minority-owned firms.

Ian Donnis can be reached at