- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey wants permission to allow Hawk One Security Inc. to begin posting guards in the city’s public schools on July 1 under a two-year, $30.3 million city contract that a competitor says should be overturned because of bidding irregularities.

Citing “urgent and compelling circumstances” — including a letter from Chief Ramsey — Interim D.C. Chief Procurement Officer Herbert R. Tillery told the D.C. Contract Appeals Board on Friday that Hawk One should begin its work next month as scheduled.

“Hawk One has incurred substantial financial obligations and costs to meet its contractual requirements,” Chief Ramsey wrote in a letter that Mr. Tillery provided to the board.

For now, however, the fate of the D.C. schools’ security arrangements remains in the hands of the contract appeals board. It halted the Hawk One award last week, but could decide whether to lift the stay within days..

The city’s school security arrangements have been the focal point of a long and contentious debate since last year, after a series of sharply critical audits came out, showing school officials mismanaged the security contract.

Watkins Security of D.C. Inc. — the schools security contractor since 2003 — filed a protest against the Hawk One award last week. The company, finishing second behind Hawk One, has called the bidding process “irrational … arbitrary and not based on evidence.”

Watkins also has argued that Hawk One is in “severe financial distress,” its resources stretched thin by a separate $14.1 million city contract to protect about 100 city government buildings.

In legal papers, Watkins cited a background check city officials performed before awarding the security contract. It said Hawk One has had difficulty paying its bills, owes more than $2 million in unpaid taxes and is likely to experience financial distress in the next year.

Hawk One President Tyrone Thompson disagrees, saying in an interview last week that “the company is financially stable.”

He said Hawk One is months from negotiating the release of more than $1 million in federal tax liens — down from more than $8 million incurred under a previous management about a decade ago, according to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson has said he plans to hire some of Watkins’ work force under the new contract.

D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairwoman of the council’s education committee, have backed Hawk One, while Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has expressed some concern about the company’s finances.

Mr. Thompson has provided city officials with details about his company’s acquisition of a $20.2 million line of credit.

He declined to specify the source of funding in an interview, but public records show that the company recently entered into a financing agreement with Vienna-based Commerce Funding Corp.

According to filings at the D.C. Office of the Recorder of Deeds, in exchange for financing, Hawk One has agreed to grant Commerce Funding a security interest in all of its assets, including inventory, accounts receivable and contract rights.

Starting July 1, oversight of the school’s security arrangements will be transferred from the school system to the police department.

Chief Ramsey wants Hawk One to begin work on July 1, saying the company already has started to recruit, screen and train personnel.

“The timing of this transition, June 30 to July 1, 2005 … was selected in order to provide a less-invasive impact on the students because there will be far fewer students at school during the summer months,” he wrote.

Watkins is fighting the move, telling the contract board it can remain in the schools until the contract dispute is settled.

Chief Ramsey is also questioning whether Watkins can meet requirements concerning background checks and drug tests.

“There is no indication that the incumbent’s guards have or could meet these legal and contractual requirements,” he wrote.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Watkins said the company regularly performs such checks.

“Watkins’ guards and officers already are screened for drugs, and their files are sent to MPD for further background checks,” said Donna Henry, Watkins spokeswoman. “The problem here isn’t the guards; it’s not the security company. It’s the way the District and the D.C. school system do business. They’re fumbling all over each other.”

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