- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Watkins Security of DC Inc., the firm that posts hundreds of guards in the public school system, will stay on the job through at least June, despite an audit last summer that found the firm to be the “least technically competent” and most expensive among five bidders.

School officials yesterday did not respond to a request for comment on the multimillion-dollar contract with Watkins Security, but the company yesterday confirmed that it has been retained through at least June.

“Naturally, Watkins Security’s management and staff is quite pleased to remain until June,” said Donna Henry, a spokeswoman for the company. “But it has been very challenging to work under such a constraining situation, with workers coming up and asking if they have to go find new jobs.”

The contract to hire Watkins Security as the school system’s security contractor has been under scrutiny after city auditors last summer found that school-system contracting officials and the D.C. Board of Education last year mishandled the contract.

According to the inspector general , school officials overpaid Watkins Security by as much as $8.8 million when they picked the firm over other bidders for a three-year, $45.6 million contract in 2003.

The inspector general found that a technical evaluation panel that reviewed contract proposals made basic math errors in its calculations and that a school board committee never approved the security agreement.

Interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen yesterday said his office is finishing two more reports that look into school security practices.

The first report compares security practices at D.C. schools with those of other districts, he said. A second report looks into the backgrounds of the school system’s private security-guard force.

Watkins Security was first hired on a three-year contract in 2003, but school officials failed to seek D.C. Council approval as required by city contracting law, so the company has been paid through a series of short-term contracts.

The latest extension was set to expire Jan. 7, but the D.C. Council last month approved emergency legislation retaining the firm through June. The council resolution states that the schools extended the contract to avoid a disruption in services.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, cast the only dissenting vote on the contract.

“We have a contractor that has not provided the level of services that is needed, and on top of that charges too much,” said Mr. Fenty, a critic of the school system’s security arrangements.

“I think it’s representative of the District of Columbia government not doing its job,” Mr. Fenty said. “It’s a situation where there is plenty of blame to go around that has eluded any accountability.”

In July, the council passed a resolution asking the public school system to start a new search for a company to provide security, after the inspector general said the current arrangement could lead to millions of dollars in cost overruns.

The most recent inspector general’s report says Watkins Security was the least-qualified and most-expensive bidder.

Watkins Security’s bid last year to provide security for three years was for $45.6 million, exceeding the proposals from four other firms. MVM Inc. bid $43.8 million, Holiday International bid $43.5 million, Unlimited Security Inc. bid $39.3 million, and Homeland Security bid $36.8 million, contracting records show.

Watkins Security officials have said the company has been unfairly criticized because of internal school-system problems in administering the contract. Officials also say the company has gained a lot of experience.

Ms. Henry said Watkins Security is hoping for a chance to compete for the security contract again in June.

“Each day we’re on the job, we need to prove ourselves,” she said. “Part of the success we’re having we feel like is a result of the fact that we’re in the community.”

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