- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General is scrutinizing the D.C. Public School System’s $45.6 million contract with a private security firm amid reports that school officials have been paying the company millions of dollars in violation of city contracting laws.

D.C. Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen confirmed to The Washington Times yesterday that his office is looking into the school system’s decision to award Watkins Security Agency of D.C. Inc. a three-year contract in July.

Mr. Andersen said his office also is conducting separate audits of physical security at the schools, the attendance record of security guards, and Watkins’ billing practices. He said the audit reports also will examine the school system’s previous schools security contract with Vienna, Va.-based MVM Inc., which ended last year.

Watkins Security also faces a separate ongoing review by the D.C. Board of Education, which was prompted by the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of Ballou High School student James Richardson, 17. Thomas Boykin, 18, is charged and being held without bond in the teen’s death, reportedly using a gun smuggled past school security guards.

According to documents obtained through an open-records request, the school system has paid at least $6.8 million to Watkins Security since July. The D.C.-based security firm is owned by former Metropolitan Police Detective Richard Hamilton.

The school system paid those funds through seven short-term “letter contracts” worth $972,000 each, according to contracting records.

Under city law, the D.C. Council is required to approve all contracts worth more than $1 million. Council members didn’t receive a copy of the $45.6 million Watkins contract until last month, after millions of dollars had been expended.

D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, yesterday called the school system’s use of costly short-term contracts a “blatant attempt to skirt the law.”

“This is why people think this is an agency that really needs better direction,” Mr. Fenty said during a government operations subcommittee hearing. “It’s embarrassing.”

When asked by council members during yesterday’s hearing why the school system fails to properly administer contracts, D.C. public school officials acknowledged “systemic problems.”

Glorious Bazemore, chief contracting officer for the school system, told council members, “D.C. Public Schools acknowledge that all multiyear contracts and contracts over $1 million should be transmitted to City Council for review and approval.”

D.C. Council member Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, said the schools security contract is in “serious jeopardy” because of the school system’s failure to follow proper contracting procedures.

Mr. Fenty said that as recently as last week the school system sent the council a modification to the Watkins contract seeking $2 million.

But, he said, the document did not have the signature of a Watkins company official.

“There are a lot of things you have to check, but at least make sure the contract has been signed,” he said.

An employee who answered the phone at Watkins Security yesterday said the firm had no comment in response to questions about the school security contract.

The Times first reported last week that, in addition to the Watkins contract, the school system has paid out funds on at least three other multimillion-dollar contracts that never received council approval.

The one-year agreements include special education contracts with the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute for $3.6 million and with the Lincolnia Education Foundation for $4 million, according to city records.

The school system also entered an agreement with Triad Health Management for $1.9 million for research services and violence-prevention activities.

Gyimah Chin, a supervisor in the school system’s contracting office, said the school system is in the process of correcting the problems.

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