- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The District’s contracting for emergency management and technology services has been beset by consultants earning more than $200 an hour and no-bid deals not approved by the D.C. Council, government audits show.

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General said two inquiries have found numerous other contracting irregularities in the District’s technology and emergency management contracts.

One audit, released May 3, reviewed the city’s efforts to modernize payroll, human resources and procurement functions. It found “unusually high labor rates” paid for some technology consultants hired under no-bid arrangements.

The report showed that at least four technology consultants, who were not identified, earned more than $300,000 per year from the District by billing as much as $322 per hour for their services.

Another audit, released Friday, found that the Office of Contracting and Procurement ignored “potential conflicts of interest,” limited competition and failed to obtain D.C. Council approval for millions of dollars in homeland security contracts.

The report raised questions about an arrangement in which a former employee of the consulting firm Marasco Newton Group/SRA International of Arlington held a job in the D.C. government monitoring his former employer’s performance.

The company was hired to develop an emergency response plan for the District in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Former company employee Steven Charvat has since resigned as director of planning for the District’s Emergency Management Agency. He is now emergency management director at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Mr. Charvat said yesterday that he did not provide special treatment to Marasco Newton while he worked for the District.

“The company had already had experience working with the District government before I was there,” he said. “I never signed any contracts.”

Meanwhile, a separate inquiry by the inspector general into D.C. technology contracts faulted the city’s contracting office and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer for “numerous deficient procurement practices.”

Auditors said city contracting and technology officials failed to provide documentation related to the awards of a $2.7 million contract to Accenture LLP and a $9.8 million contract to Keane Inc., both in 2002.

Of 31 contracts scrutinized, auditors found that 28 were awarded on a sole-source basis “without the benefit of competition” and that all the contracts were paid out based on fixed hourly rates, despite city rules that discourage the practice.

Chief Technology Officer Suzanne J. Peck disputed that there were “questionable procurement practices” in written testimony she submitted to the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations.

“The selection process was fair and open,” she said.

She also disputed overpaying consultants: “The bid prices for the staff positions … were well within market rates for comparable projects.”

The contracting problems raised in both audits have surfaced repeatedly in recent years.

“In the past five years … audits have identified persistent problems with sole-source procurements and other related contracting issues,” interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen said in written testimony submitted to the D.C. Council on Monday.

Calling for stricter contracting laws, Mr. Anderson said his office is “encouraged by corrective actions under way” and “the energy demonstrated by new leadership” at the city’s contracting office.

Interim Chief Procurement Officer Herbert R. Tillery, who took over the troubled contracting agency last year, testified that the contracting office is in the midst of “a major transformation.”

“We have identified weaknesses, implemented changes and developed new policies and procedures,” he said.

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