- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The D.C. Office of the Auditor yesterday disclosed that an ongoing inquiry has found contracting irregularities and questionable payments in the hiring of out-of-town consultants by the offices of the mayor and city administrator.

Citing “inappropriate decision-making” and “apparent pressure from upper management,” D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols said her office is questioning several no-bid consulting deals related to efforts to bring Major League Baseball to the District and to organize a trade mission for city officials to China last year.

“The regularity with which sole source, noncompetitive agreements are used by the Executive Office of the Mayor and Office of the City Administrator are troubling in that such agreements raise questions about the integrity and fairness of the procurement process,” Mrs. Nichols said.

She discussed her inquiry before the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations. The committee, headed by Vincent B. Orange Sr., Ward 5 Democrat, has been holding oversight hearings since last year into efforts to reform city contracting practices.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb emerged as a central figure in Mrs. Nichols’ testimony.

Among the transactions under scrutiny by Mrs. Nichols’ office are consulting deals involving people whom Mr. Bobb knew from his previous job as city administrator in Oakland, Calif., which he left in 2003.

Mr. Bobb was not available for comment yesterday.

His former chief of staff — Edward D. Reiskin, now deputy mayor for public safety and justice — said: “There was certainly no intent or understanding that we were violating any contracting processes, and I’m not convinced that we did.

“There is nobody in this government that respects the integrity of the contracting process like Robert Bobb does,” Mr. Reiskin said. “He would never knowingly or willingly do anything to skirt the process.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Anthony A. Williams is awaiting a final report from the auditor, “who so far has only shared her testimony with the council,” mayoral spokesman Vincent Morris said.

“However, each of the consultants in question provided valuable assistance to the city either by helping with the [historic] trip to China or advising the city administrator on labor issues,” Mr. Morris said.

One consulting deal under scrutiny called for Oakland City Council member Jane Brunner, a labor lawyer, to earn $185 per hour — up to a maximum of $90,000 in one year — to devise strategies to increase apprenticeship opportunities in the District, according to the auditor’s office.

Mrs. Nichols said the contract was never handled by the city’s Office of Contracting and Procurement as required by city regulations. She said Mr. Bobb’s chief of staff — Mr. Reiskin — executed the contract without “any apparent contracting authority”

She faulted the city administrator’s office for “a lack of experience and knowledge” of D.C. contracting and procurement rules.

Although the contract had a ceiling of $90,000, the District has paid Miss Brunner $8,667 for her work between June and September of 2004.

Also at issue are three purchase orders last year totaling $26,500 paid to consultant Ira Sockowitz, a former Clinton administration appointee. He was hired for work related to a trade mission to China that was led by Mr. Williams and involved several council members, including Mr. Orange.

Mrs. Nichols said the city already was paying for consulting services to Lily Hu and Melinda Yee Franklin for the trip. Funds to Miss Hu, an Oakland lobbyist, and Miss Yee Franklin were paid via a $25,000 flat-fee, sole-source agreement, although Mrs. Nichols said the services were performed without a valid contract.

City regulations state, “No District employee shall enter into an oral agreement to provide goods or services to the District government without a valid written contract” and that “any violation shall be cause for … termination.”

Mr. Orange yesterday said that his committee will continue to probe the consulting deals and that it is likely to issue subpoenas.

“This is far from over,” he said.

D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown, an at-large Democrat who also attended yesterday’s hearing, called Mrs. Nichols’ findings “incredible.”

“Everyone is breaking the law,” he said.

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