- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

The District of Columbia Department of Public Works (DPW) takes about four years to begin road construction projects after receiving funds for the work, compared with seven months for similar state agencies, according to federal reports.

The General Accounting Office has found that DPW's contract process takes nearly 1,500 days to complete. In 1996, the Federal Highway Administration reported that DPW took 12 to 18 months while states took only seven.

"The need is great. There's no excuse for taking such a long time," said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Public Works Committee.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on the District tomorrow will hold a hearing on the city's management reform. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, financial control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, are expected to testify.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) in 1996 advised DPW that its contracting procedures were out of line with those of state agencies and recommended streamlining the department's contracting process.

The FHA found that states averaged 6.9 months between securing funds for construction projects and awarding contracts. It likewise found that DPW took 12.6 months on contracts worth less than $1 million and 18.3 months on contracts worth more than $1 million.

The GAO report, based on preliminary findings in an ongoing investigation of DPW, notes that the public works agency's contracting process has lengthened to 1,466 days.

The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the GAO report.

"Fifteen hundred days is just unacceptable," said Dan Tangherlini, DPW's acting transportation director.

Mr. Tangherlini found out about the GAO investigation about three weeks ago and learned its preliminary findings on Monday.

"My dream would be to go from 1,500 days to 150 days, but that's going to require some changes of attitude," he said, adding that he would like to have a new process in place by next spring.

Mr. Tangherlini said the contract process has too many steps, many of which were created by the city's attempts to curb spending after its financial crisis in 1995.

"We're not the holdup," Mrs. Schwartz said of the council's involvement in DPW's delays. "We only do a once-a-year review."

The GAO draft report notes that between 1997 and 1999 DPW spent an average of 25.7 months on the design phase of road construction projects, then took another 21.6 months to award contracts.

Mr. Tangherlini said DPW has begun talks with FHA officials to develop "a whole new approach," such as making more steps in the contract process simultaneous, instead of sequential.

The 1996 FHA report found that none of DPW's project managers were trained in contract negotiation or price analysis and recommended that responsibility be consolidated.

"The process is too intensive. We need to streamline it," Mr. Tangherlini said. "At the same time, we don't forget the events of last week … where people take advantage."

Earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted two road contractors and their companies on charges of bribing two DPW employees to inflate city payments to their companies.

The grand jury accused Florentino Gregorio and his company, C&F; Construction Co., and Carlos Granja and his company, Granja Contracting Inc.

Also, Bijan Haghtalab, a former public works engineer who was in charge of many street-repair projects, agreed to plead guilty in federal court to conspiracy and bribery charges for receiving cash and gifts from road contractors in an overbilling scheme that cost taxpayers $225,000.

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