- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Gray administration’s request for retroactive approval of a school security contract that has been extended without D.C. Council approval since August met with bruising criticism last week at the confirmation hearing for James D. Staton Jr., acting chief of the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement (OCP).

Mr. Staton, the nominee of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, was caught flat-footed as Ward 3 Democrat Mary Cheh, chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, and at-large Democrat Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, demanded to know why council concerns about performance problems on the part of U.S. Security Associates (USSA) and subcontractor Watkins Security Services have yet to be addressed.

“Is this how you want to see this agency run?” asked Mr. Mendelson, who also directed questions and remarks to OCP General Counsel Nancy Hapeman.

“I’m disappointed there seems to be all these issues that appear to be overlooked,” Ms. Cheh said. “What is it that you intend to do about these issues?”

In August, a unanimous council, led by then-Chairman Gray, wrote to OCP with concerns about discrimination complaints, a multimillion-dollar jury verdict for sexual harassment and retaliation, and substantial wage and hour litigation involving USSA, and urged for a replacement firm.

On Feb. 16, Mr. Mendelson held a hearing during which his committee heard testimony from USSA employees who further complained of unfair labor practices and retaliation for complaining about those practices. Mr. Mendelson wrote to Mr. Staton on April 14 asking why the USSA contract was being extended on a monthly basis without council approval.

On Friday, he expressed displeasure that his questions and concerns had not been resolved. An OCP review of the contract has consisted mostly of satisfactory references from the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was sent to the council on May 13.

Mr. Mendelson’s office did not receive it until May 24, the same day a story ran in The Washington Times that also questioned the unauthorized contract extensions and complaints against USSA.

“I’m feeling insulted,” Mr. Mendelson said of OCP’s failure to respond to issues raised by the council since August. “We’re being asked to approve a contract with nothing but a record of unresponsiveness. That’s an unfair position for the council to be put it.”

Mr. Mendelson focused on USSA being slapped with 70 security violations in 14 months and asked, “How can your office be recommending approval of this contract when there are all these violations?”

“Were the violations in the District of Columbia?” asked Mr. Staton, who has been acting chief for more than two months.

“Yes,” Mr. Mendelson shot back.

“Oh,” said Mr. Staton, who referred a couple of times to the veteran council member as “Mr. Middleton.”

“I don’t have that information in front of me,” he said.

Mr. Staton, who if confirmed will see his salary go from $101,000 to $163,000, deferred many questions to Ms. Hapeman, who assured the committee the U.S. Department of Labor is investigating complaints against USSA.

“We have to have a way, rather than relying on the Department of Labor, to determine for ourselves if a contractor is responsible and in compliance with the law,” Ms. Cheh said, to which Mr. Staton replied that he would review OCP’s oversight procedures with Ms. Hapeman.

“That will tell you nothing,” Ms. Cheh said. “You need to hear from people who have come here and testified, and you need to consider whether these allegations have any foundation, and if they do, what are the consequences. You can’t just push through a contract that potentially has all these ills associated with it.”