- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 24, 2009

The D.C. Council on Friday sharply criticized schools and contracting officials for leaving legislators in the dark about a litany of problems leading to the cancelation of a nearly $12 million contract for a new student database.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray further admonished State Superintendent of Education Kerri Briggs for continuing to pay the contract vendor more than four months after officials became aware of problems with the project.

“I don’t understand why we weren’t told,” Mr. Gray said during a public roundtable at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest Washington. “The deficiencies were so profound with this I don’t know why we paid them anything.”

Mr. Gray highlighted two payments to contract vendor Williams, Adley & Company LLP - one of about $1 million in June and another of $127,000 in August - referencing documents from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the Office of Contracting and Procurement that said the firm was not making good on contract deliverables.

Ms. Briggs defended the payments, which she approved, saying they were not complete payments and that the state superintendent’s office was trying to give Williams, Adley & Company a chance to respond to its allegations.

“At the time we were working in good faith with the contractors,” Ms. Briggs said. “We were trying to work through to resolve the problems.”

The District has paid more than $3.7 million to develop the database since September 2008, according to numbers from the state superintendent’s office.

On April 17, the state superintendent’s office wrote to the contracting office explaining issues with the student database, which led to three contract review meetings.

Contracting officials on June 17 sent a letter to Williams, Adley & Company listing numerous deficiencies - including the database’s inability to track students over time, one of the essential functions of the system.

Chief Procurement Officer David P. Gragan said the District was legally obligated to give Williams, Adley & Company 10 days to respond, which they did on July 6 after an extension of their deadline.

On Sept. 9, just over a year after it was awarded, city officials canceled the contract, outlining major problems with eight areas of the project.

An aide to Mr. Gray said Williams, Adley & Company was invited to testify at the meeting but declined.

Williams, Adley & Company consulting partner Jocelyn A. Hill said the company would not comment on the termination of the contract, citing the advice of counsel.

Ms. Briggs said she was not aware of any response by the firm to the contract termination. However, she said the District is considering legal action.

Council members Mary M. Cheh and David A. Catania also expressed concerns about the execution of the contract, which they said appeared to be in trouble early.

Mrs. Cheh cited the modification of the contract in December to switch the payment schedule from deliverable-based to quarterly. She said she had heard the change might have been made because Williams, Adley & Company lacked the capital to complete the project.

“Someone has to own up to making a mistake and say we weren’t minding the store while money was going out the door,” Mrs. Cheh said.

Ms. Briggs, who replaced Deborah Gist in April, said she did not know why the superintendent’s office agreed to change the contract in December.

Mr. Catania said the execution of the contract made a mockery of the contracting process, which he said was “replete with gamesmanship and winks and nods.”

Ms. Briggs said her office has hired a firm to assess what work has been done to date and advise the office how to proceed in completing the database.

• David C. Lipscomb can be reached at .

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