- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The D.C. Public Library system’s chief business officer quietly resigned from his $164,500-a-year job last summer, but quickly won a no-bid contract that pays him the same amount of money for many of the same responsibilities — including helping to manage the library contracts office.

The outsourcing arrangement means that Eric Coard, who as a contractor remains listed as the library system’s chief business officer, is not subject to the same ethics and personnel rules as other city employees even as he continues to help oversee the agency’s annual budget and construction of libraries across the city.

“From a cost perspective, this move might result in savings for D.C. residents, but from a government operations perspective, it’s troubling,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan D.C.-based watchdog group Project On Government Oversight.

“Contracting out senior-level management and policy functions isn’t in the best interest of the city and the public, and may circumvent city hiring policies and decrease morale,” he said. “The public deserves a government that operates beyond reproach, but that can be difficult when you merge public and private interests.”

D.C. library officials said the hiring was perfectly legal and Mr. Coard left his position with the city because he wanted to grow his consulting business, which is based out of his home in Maryland, according to business filings.

As a contractor, Mr. Coard no longer has library employees reporting to him directly, nor does he have access to some internal systems, such as procurement records, library spokesman George Williams said.

Mr. Williams, responding to questions about Mr. Coard, said library employees still have the ultimate say on any final decisions. Still, contract documents provided by library officials outline a host of responsibilities not typically associated with an outside consultant.

“The consultant will also perform the full range of managerial functions, including but not limited to planning, setting and evaluating performance expectations,” contracting papers to hire Mr. Coard state.

“The consultant,” the documents also note, “will direct and manage the capital projects program through the capital projects program officer,” including construction of library facilities and major renovation projects.

Despite restricted access to contracting records, Mr. Coard “will direct and manage the contracting and procurement program through the agency procurement officer, and will act as the agency contracting officer,” contract papers state.

When he was a city employee, officials said, Mr. Coard wasn’t required to file financial disclosure statements but did so nonetheless.

Such disclosure forms ask for, among other things, any income earned from businesses that do business with the city government. Mr. Coard didn’t report any outside income on his most recent forms.

Library officials also said that as a former employee, Mr. Coard will be subject to the same set of post-employment restrictions as any other senior employees who leave for the private sector.

It’s unusual, though not unprecedented, for D.C. agencies to contract out such high-ranking positions, which are almost always assigned to employees.

Last year, The Washington Times reported on a similar arrangement involving a top official currently in the office of the city administrator. Warren Graves was hired as a consultant with the city’s Office of Public Education Facilities Management, where he served as chief of staff but was paid on a contract basis and was able to collect his government pension. He later moved to the office of the city administrator as chief of staff and is now on the payroll.

But Mr. Williams said Mr. Coard’s move from employee to contractor had nothing to do with his pension because he was able to continue collecting it when he joined the library in 2007 as a “wages as earned” employee without benefits.

He said Mr. Coard also wasn’t vesting in the city’s pension system while working for the library system as an employee.

Mr. Coard has a long history with the city government. He was chief financial officer and senior executive director for corporate support with the Metropolitan Police Department. He has also held other finance jobs with the city, including associate treasurer.

He was hired by the library system in 2007 as chief business officer, overseeing capital construction, finance, procurement and human resources departments.

The latest challenge for the city library system has been a reduction in its book budget, coupled with increasing demand for library materials, especially digital media, according to budget papers submitted by the library to the D.C. Council this year.

The more than 300-page submission also contains details about the contract to Mr. Coard’s firm and the system’s policy on entering into contracts without competitive bidding.

“Noncompetitive transactions are not to be cavalierly entered into and there should be sufficient justification,” library officials stated.

In contract papers justifying the award to Coard Consulting, library officials cited Mr. Coard’s “28 years of substantive managerial experience and financial oversight,” as well as the fact he is the incumbent chief business officer.

The documents also state that the chief business officer position is being converted from a temporary employee with no benefits to a personal services contract.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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