- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2004

Sloppy math contributed to millions of dollars in cost overruns in a D.C. school system contract with a private security company that posts guards in the schools, according to a government audit released yesterday.

The D.C. Office of Inspector General uncovered simple addition errors and incomplete worksheets done by school system officials who reviewed a $45.6 million contract awarded to Watkins Security of D.C. Inc.

As previously reported, the audit also reveals that Watkins Security was hired last summer despite being the least qualified and most expensive among five companies bidding for the school security contract.

The decision to award the contract to Watkins Security cost the school district, which cited budget shortfalls in May while laying off 285 teachers, between $1.2 million and $8.8 million, according to the city audit.

“The award to Watkins Security Inc. apparently resulted from a lack of effective procurement operational policies and procedures, a flawed technical evaluation process and the absence of a clearly articulated rational basis for the selection,” the report concluded.

Members of a school system committee charged with reviewing bids for the District’s multimillion-dollar private security contract either did not review or made errors on bid evaluation papers, the report found. The report did not identify the committee members.

In addition, the report faulted a D.C. Board of Education committee consisting of District 4 Board member William Lockridge and Board Vice President Miriam Saez for failing to review the contract prior to its rewarding last summer.

Neither could be reached for comment yesterday. Previous phone calls to both school board members concerning the contract were not returned.

The report, which identified Mr. Lockridge and Miss Saez by title only, said the board members failed to exercise adequate oversight of the contract as members of the board’s facilities and finance committee.

According to the report, that committee was supposed to review the contract. Miss Saez told investigators that she “had the opportunity to review the contract,” but would not say whether she ever did so, the report said.

The inspector general also said Miss Saez did not recall whether the school board held a formal meeting to discuss the $45.6 million contract.

In addition, Mr. Lockridge said he did not perform an extensive review of the contract and never saw a complete version of the agreement to provide hundreds of guards in city schools, according to the report.

The audit said: “Considering the magnitude and cost of the contract, the vice president and District Four representative should know what documents they reviewed; should have reviewed the contract extensively … and should have formally convened a meeting of the principals to review, approve or disapprove of the contract.”

School officials acknowledge the problems in the contract.

Interim D.C. Schools Superintendent Robert Rice wrote in a an Aug. 4 letter to Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen that the school system is “exercising great effort” to fix contracting problems.

Mr. Rice said the school system also is working with the Metropolitan Police Department to award a new school security contract in December.

Security arrangements in the 64,000-student school system came under scrutiny following the Feb. 2 shooting death of a student inside Ballou High School.

The inspector general is conducting a series of related audits, checking the background of hundreds of guards in the schools, reviewing incident reporting and assessing security.

Meanwhile, city school system officials are trying to find money to fill a $1.5 million shortfall in the security contract.

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