Warren Graves, a key aide to former D.C. Mayors Marion Barry, Anthony A. Williams and other politicians, recently earned more than $200,000 working as chief of staff in a city agency in charge of rebuilding city schools, but he wasn’t on the government’s payroll.
Instead, Mr. Graves was hired through a nearly quarter-million-dollar no-bid contract, an arrangement that meant he was not subject to city personnel rules and that would allow him to continue collecting a government pension.
Mr. Graves received a sole-source contract for $224,250 in August from the city’s office of public education facilities modernization for services described as “on site consultant” at a time when he routinely was referred by that office not as a consultant, but rather as chief of staff.
The contract monitor was Allen Lew, formerly head of the schools office. He recently left that job after accepting Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s offer to be city administrator, and Mr. Graves followed. Mr. Graves now is on the city payroll as chief of staff for the city administrator’s office earning $195,000 annually with benefits.
Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan D.C.-based watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, described Mr. Graves’ hiring arrangement at the schools office as unusual. “I think Mr. Lew has a right to have the chief of staff he wants, but the normal way to do that is to hire him as a city employee,” Mr. Ellis said.
“If you want to award it on contract basis, then you go out on a competitive basis and award a contract. Having it both ways is a very odd arrangement. To contract such a key employee as chief of staff for an agency just seems bizarre,” he said.
The city administrator’s office defends the hiring, saying officials followed all procurement rules and that the arrangement had been in place for years. In fact, officials said it was Mr. Graves’ “right” to work essentially as an independent contractor as opposed to a regular employee.
Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the city administrator’s office, said Mr. Graves joined the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission (DCSEC) as a contract or “1099” employee in 1999. The “1099” refers to a tax form used to report income to independent contractors to the Internal Revenue Service.
“The arrangement was Mr. Graves’ preference, as is his right, and was decided upon to protect his federal pension,” Mr. Robinson said. “Allen Lew joined the DCSEC in 2004 and decided to maintain the arrangement. Mr. Graves was appointed chief of staff four months after Mr. Lew’s arrival.”
Mr. Robinson said Mr. Graves’ compensation was paid monthly and that it accounted for all of his compensation from the D.C. government.
“Warren Graves is a longtime employee of the District government having served every mayor since home rule,” Mr. Robinson said. “This issue is not a procurement matter but a personal services matter that is an allowable practice in government and private industry.”
The city administrator’s office marks Mr. Graves’ third stop at an agency working for Mr. Lew. But his status changed from contractor to employee when Mr. Lew took his job as city administrator in the Gray administration.
“When Mr. Lew was appointed city administrator, he again asked Mr. Graves to join him in the new endeavor,” said Mr. Robinson.
But under the sports and entertainment commission, an independent agency, and the schools office, a newly created agency, Mr. Graves’ arrangement was allowable, officials said.
Mr. Robinson said those agencies “had more flexibility than a typical government agency and so his “1099” employment was permitted.
“However, in order to continue his service to the District in his new role [at the city administrator’s office], Mr. Graves accepted a regular full-time position as chief of staff,” Mr. Robinson said.
Mr. Graves, a longtime figure in the D.C. government, was described in a 2002 article by The Washington Post as a “longtime political operative.” He was a campaign manager for Mr. Williams, for whom he also worked as director of intergovernmental relations.
Mr. Graves also managed a campaign for D.C. Council member Jack Evans, and he was communications director for Mr. Barry.
Mr. Lew took over the newly created schools office in 2007, where he oversaw more than $1 billion in construction and renovation work in city schools, according to the city administrator’s office.