- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The D.C. Council on Tuesday passed a resolution asking the public school system to begin a new search for a company to provide security, after the D.C. Office of Inspector General reported that the current arrangement could lead to millions of dollars in cost overruns.

The decision came a week after council members let stand a multimillion-dollar contract keeping Watkins Security of D.C. Inc. in the schools at least through January.

“This is a contract run amok with no oversight by the Board of Education and frankly no real power on the part of this body to interject itself,” D.C. Council member David A. Catania said.

The D.C. Office of Inspector General has been conducting a series of audits into the school system’s security, including the background checks of security guards, that are expected to be released this summer.

In a June 11 draft report, the inspector general found the school system had overpaid $1.2 million to $8.8 million since it began employing Watkins Security last summer.

A separate audit earlier this year found that the school system also had overpaid its previous security contractor, MVM Inc., by as much as $11.4 million.

Mr. Catania, at-large Republican, was one of six council members who signed a letter circulated last week by D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty requesting a meeting on the Watkins contract.

The council’s decision to take no action on the contract gave it automatic approval, paying Watkins Security about $9.1 million through January, said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said she had concerns about the contract but did not want to block the agreement for fear of leaving the schools without any security services.

Mrs. Cropp sponsored a resolution Tuesday that requested but did not mandate that the school system seek bids from contractors to award a new security contract. The resolution, which passed unanimously, also suggested that the school system work with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve security.

Mr. Catania said the resolution did not go far enough, adding that the council “didn’t want to get its hands dirty.”

Mr. Fenty, the council’s chief critic of the contract, said “we’re going to have inspector general’s report after inspector general’s report that show there are millions of dollars being wasted.”

Donna Henry, a spokeswoman for Watkins Security, said yesterday the firm has been unfairly criticized.

“There were issues that the council clearly felt they had to deal with,” Miss Henry said. “At the same time, they were using this situation as it relates to the handling of the procurement process as a way to scold the D.C. school system.”

The most recent inspector general’s report says Watkins Security was the least qualified and most expensive bidder.

The Washington Times reported in May that Watkins’ bid last year to provide security for three years was for $45.6 million, exceeding the proposals from four other firms.

MVM bid $43.8 million, Holiday International bid $43.5 million, Unlimited Security bid $39.3 million, and Homeland Security bid $36.8 million, contracting records show.

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