- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) awarded two projects worth nearly $5 million to a construction firm days after the company pleaded guilty for its role in bribing D.C. engineers and highway inspectors.

WASA officials yesterday defended awarding both contracts to Fort Myer Construction Corp., saying an internal probe conducted months afterward found that the firm should not be barred from doing business with the authority.

“We conducted our own complete investigation,” said WASA spokeswoman Libby Lawson. “Our checks and balances are such that they just do not allow for an opportunity for mischief because we have some very strict regulations in place here.”

WASA officials also pointed to a new corporate-compliance program at Fort Myer and the absence of any bribery charges against senior company officials.

On March 18, WASA, the public authority that delivers water and treats sewage in the District, named Fort Myer as contractor for a $2.2 million sewer-rehabilitation project. The award came four days after Fort Myer admitted in federal court to conspiring to bribe D.C. Department of Public Works officials.

In return for cash payments, D.C. engineers and road inspectors overstated how much asphalt Fort Myer delivered to city job sites from 1995 through 1998.

Fort Myer also was awarded a separate $2.5 million contract on March 27 for flood-control improvements, according to WASA contracting records.

Not everybody agrees with the findings in WASA’s investigation, and Fort Myer remains barred from competing for federal government contracts until Dec. 10, 2004.

D.C. chief procurement officer Jacques Abadie III ruled in April that Fort Myer owners “participated in, knew of or had reason to know” about the bribery scheme. His ruling barred Fort Myer from competing for D.C. government contracts for three years. However, last month the D.C. Council voted 11-2 to lift suspensions against city contractors pending a review by a panel of D.C. government executives. Council members Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, voted against the measure.

The council’s legislation was aimed at reinstating Fort Myer, the District’s largest road paver with $60 million in active projects. Several council members said the suspension was too harsh and that many District residents would lose their jobs if Fort Myer could not compete for government contracts.

Fort Myer officials have said they knew nothing of the bribery scheme and have blamed the crimes on “rogue employees” of a subsidiary company called District Paving.

Nine D.C. engineers and inspectors were fired and two Fort Myer employees lost their jobs as a result of the bribery scheme, which federal authorities dubbed Operation Hot Mix.

Fort Myer has agreed to pay $900,000 in fines for its role in the scheme.

WASA officials were aware of Mr. Abadie’s decision to debar Fort Myer, but decided against suspending the firm based on the recommendation of WASA procurement director Roger Ball.

Mr. Ball found that Fort Myer’s “admitted misconduct was removed from the current management of the company,” WASA General Manager Jerry Johnson wrote in a letter to WASA board members dated Aug. 20.

Fort Myer enacted reforms “that are reasonably capable of reducing the prospect of criminal conduct” and continues “to demonstrate favorable performance results with respect to all WASA contracts,” Mr. Ball’s ruling stated.

Still, Fort Myer’s ability to do business with District government remains in question. The council’s emergency legislation expires next month and a temporary version of the bill has yet to be signed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Spokesman Tony Bullock said he doesn’t know whether Mr. Williams plans to sign the legislation, which remains on the mayor’s desk.

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