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Elected officials say such flare-ups are the province of the Contracts Appeals Board. But in the case of United Medical Center, losing competitors such as Navigant Consulting and Quorum Health Resources — along with their respective local, certified small-business partners — ended up watching as the matter went before the council’s Committee of the Whole, where some members wanted nothing to do with it.

“Inserting these disputes into the political process tells you everything you need to know about the [local small-business] community,” said Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and staunch advocate for the hospital in question. “They’ll say they don’t want to ‘sue the client,’ but the bottom line is the city should get the council out of the process.

“It’s a culture that will use the politics to subvert the legitimate [contracting] process.”

Mr. Catania’s objections over council involvement were echoed by several of his colleagues, yet there was little discussion about what the small-business certification process should look like if the city is going to avoid such disputes — and any liability stemming from them.

“The council acting as an appeals board, this is an abuse of process,” he added. “If a winning bidder has their award overturned, they could have a cause of action against the entity that abused the process.”

That, presumably, could include competitors who steer grievances into the political arena, Mr. Catania said, which is contrary to the intent of the local-business requirement and a disincentive for top-quality companies to compete.

When small-business participation rules were put in place, the idea was to enable local companies to learn, grow and compete elsewhere. But Mr. Catania and other critics say there’s a perception that political connections equal contract certainty.

Present at the hearing last week was Robert C. Bobb, a former D.C. city administrator and former president of the D.C. Board of Education. From his perspective, as a local partner of losing bidder Quorum, the problem is not the politicization of the procurement process or even the involvement of “consultants” and middlemen such as Mr. Charles, but the District’s inability or unwillingness to follow its own rules.

“It appears the District Staff who administered this procurement knowingly did not follow the procurement law which they are sworn to administer,” Mr. Bobb wrote in an email to The Washington Times. “They hijacked what was supposed to be an open competition designed to deliver our citizens and taxpayers the best value and willfully manipulated the selection process to deliver a contract worth 30 percent more than what other qualified bidders proposed.

“They may have opened themselves up to unnecessary criticism and accusations of manipulating the process to get to their preferred choice from the outset. This unfortunate consequence leaves the [small-business] and prime-contractor community unsure of what the requirements are for [small-business] participation on District contracts.”

If there’s anything that competitors such as Mr. Bobb and elected officials such as Mr. Catania have in common, it is the belief that institutions such as United Medical Center are too important to be deprived of a clear vision for improvement and a fair contract procurement process.

But after last week’s hearing and a vote on the turnaround contract scheduled for Tuesday, it does not appear that the District is prepared to get a grip on either of those issues.

“Its unfortunate that this contact will be awarded with so many unanswered questions as to the logic, as to why the process all bidders were required to follow, was not followed,” Mr. Bobb said in his email. “The tendency is to approve the contact and fix the problem later which is illogical. All of the noise could have been avoided if the [contract] was simply rebid.”