- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The interim head of the District’s contracting office yesterday called for a review by the D.C. inspector general of the city’s homeland security contracts and for the formation of a panel to review more than $360 million in no-bid deals.

Meanwhile, D.C. Council members called for a review of more than 140 contracts approved this year for $999,999.99 each — one penny short of the amount requiring council approval.

Herbert R. Tillery, interim chief of the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement, said the inquiries are part of a review of operations at the contracting office after the resignation this month of Chief Contracting Officer Jacques Abadie III.

Mr. Abadie resigned under pressure after a nearly one-year tenure marked by reports of questionable practices and investigations into those practices.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, yesterday criticized the contracting office’s use of sole-source, or no-bid, consulting contracts under the city’s homeland security program that are worth millions of dollars to the Marasco Newton Group.

“This hearing could lead to a full blown investigation,” said Mr. Orange, chairman of the government reform committee. “The government looks foolish,” he said, for handing out $6 million for a homeland security contract without council approval.

Mr. Tillery said he has requested that the Office of the Inspector General review “task orders, the appropriateness of sole-source awards and possible conflicts of interest” regarding the homeland security contracts.

A former employee of the company, Steven Kral, works as administrator for the District’s homeland security program. Mr. Kral said yesterday that D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb has the final say on how the city spends federal homeland security grant money.

The inquiry into the city’s homeland security spending comes on the heels of an audit this month by the Office of the Inspector General that blamed the contracting office for losing more than $1 million.

The contracting office resold emergency equipment at “bargain basement” prices, the audit said, adding that in one case, a firetruck worth $125,000 was sold for $25.

The contracting office also faced scrutiny last week after The Washington Times reported that a local businessman recently convicted of racketeering had won more than $1.3 million in city construction contracts. Contracting officials have said they were not aware that the contractor, Olushola Akinleye, had a criminal history when they awarded the projects.

Council members yesterday criticized the contracting office mostly for approving hundreds of millions in no-bid contracts and for awarding 147 contracts this year that were just barely under the $1 million threshold requiring council approval.

“This is an area of the government that I have been personally concerned about for a long time,” council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said of the $999,999.99 contracts. “I’m sick of the laws being circumvented.”

Mrs. Schwartz also lamented the resignations or reassignments of several high-ranking contracting officials, including Mr. Abadie, just as improprieties in the contracting office came to light.

“Nobody ever gets fired,” she said.

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said she hasn’t heard an adequate explanation for the practice of awarding $999,999.99 contracts.

“This is pretty controversial,” she said. “If there is a business rationale, I’m still waiting to hear it.”

Mr. Tillery said he will review the practice. He added, however, that many such contracts refer to a maximum amount that a contractor can earn. In some cases, he said, companies awarded a contract for $999,999.99 receive much less.

In addition, the District has awarded 569 contracts worth $368 million without competitive bidding this year, Mr. Tillery said.

“I believe that the sole-source contracting method is an efficient and necessary contracting option,” he said. “However, like other contracting methods, it must be utilized within the confines of District law and regulations.”

Mr. Tillery said he plans to establish a “sole-source review panel” and require contracting officers to participate in a mandatory sole-source contract training session by Oct. 15.

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