- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Three D.C. Council members want more time to review a proposal from the school board to continue employing a company that provides hundreds of security guards in city public schools.

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, on Thursday sponsored a resolution of disapproval on the school board’s $9.1 million request to approve a contract with D.C.-based Watkins Security of D.C. Inc.

The resolution does not reject the contract, but it gives council members two more weeks to review the agreement.

“There are just too many questions right now about the contract for the council to approve it without a hearing,” Mr. Fenty said.

Council members Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, also filed the disapproval request.

Mr. Fenty said he remains upset that the school system continued to pay Watkins Security millions of dollars but waited nearly a year to send to the council its request to hire the company.

The school system last year told Watkins Security officials that the company won a three-year, $45.6 million contract to provide guards in the city schools.

However, school contracting officials never sought council approval of the agreement, and city contracting law states that the council must approve contracts exceeding $1 million.

The company has remained on the job because school officials have been paying Watkins Security through a series of month-to-month “letter contracts,” most of them worth a little less than $1 million each.

The school board voted for a longer-term agreement last month, proposing to employ the firm through January for $9.1 million, according city records.

But Mr. Fenty said council members need more time and a better explanation from school system officials before approving the agreement.

“Let’s have a hearing and see what the school system has to say,” Mr. Fenty said. “Their explanation about why this hasn’t come to the council has been abysmal.”

Officials for Watkins Security say they won the contract through “fair and competitive bidding.”

“We complied with the contract, and we bid in a fair and competitive manner,” said Donna Henry, a spokeswoman for Watkins Security.

“We have nothing to do with the administration and the procurement practices of the school system,” she said.

The security firm has begun a campaign to counter testimony criticizing school security officers during a council hearing in March.

Watkins officials say accusations about inept guards focused on events that took place before the security company took over from Virginia-based MVM Inc. last summer.

Watkins Security hired hundreds of MVM guards when it took over the school security contract, which requires 343.5 full-time personnel. Company officials say at least 147 employees have been replaced because of termination, resignation, military obligation and family leave.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Office of Inspector General is continuing to conduct a series of audits into the school system’s security arrangements, including the background and qualification of security guards.

Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said his office is looking into “security force attendance, professionalism, background checks, certification and diversity.”

Mr. Andersen said Friday he expects the reports will be issued within the next 30 to 45 days.

In a letter to the council, Richard Hamilton, president of Watkins Security, said the firm is cooperating with the inspector general’s review.

“We wish to make it abundantly clear that we have nothing to hide,” Mr. Hamilton said.

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