Procurement woes delay much-touted St. Elizabeths East work


Plans are in the works for the city to begin redeveloping much of the former mental hospital, spread among 19 buildings. (Evy Mages for The Washington Post)

The District’s oft-criticized procurement system appears to have struck again.

Botched solicitations have derailed a taxicab “smart meter” system, delayed delivery of new streetcars and turned efforts to upgrade the city’s streetlights into an unholy mess.

The latest casualty: Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s much-touted efforts to redevelop the 183-acre St. Elizabeths east campus in Ward 8.

A solicitation nearly two years in the making for tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure work was cancelled June 18 by the D.C. Department of Transportation — prompted in part, the city’s lead St. Elizabeths official said, by concerns that the solicitation could be successfully challenged by a losing bidder. The Washington Business Journal was first to report the cancellation Monday.

The upshot, said the official, Catherine Buell, is that planned west campus tenants Microsoft, SmartBIM or Citelum will have to wait an additional year or more to move into their spaces in the historic former mental asylum. An expected late-2016 opening date is now late 2017 or beyond, she said.

“We are still pushing,” Buell said. “We are moving on an aggressive timeline.”

The District government-led east campus project, to create an academic, corporate and medical campus around the Congress Heights Metro stop, is proceeding separately from the federal west campus project — the star-crossed $4.5 billion push to consolidate the Department of Homeland Security there.

There are many reasons that the west campus timeline has moved back, Buell said: The scope and shape of the redevelopment has changed since the infrastructure work was first sketched out in 2012, and a set of proposals recently submitted by potential master developers could change it even more. Further, she said, the now-cancelled solicitation lacked flexibility and the ability to adapt to what will ultimately be planned for the site.

But procurement flaws that raised the possibility of a successful protest, she said, were the ultimate reason for the solication’s demise. “It may have delayed it for another two, three, four years,” she said. “Rather than face that level of uncertainty, it would be better to pull the Phase 1 infrastructure solicitation, revise it in its entirety … then move forward with additional certainty and confidence.”

An earlier stage of the solicitation short-listed three teams, but Buell said the process will start from scratch, with additional bidders allowed to participate.

The infrastructure solicitation will move forward as a final selection of a master developer is made. Bids on that contract were due Friday; Buell said a list of qualifying bidders will be released next month, with their plans being presented to the community in the fall and a final selection made by year’s end.

Reggie Sanders, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the infrastructure work is now being readvertised.

“We are currently modifying contract documents incorporating items that were not very clearly identified in initial solicitation,” he said in an e-mail. “Our target is to start construction in early spring 2015.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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Mike DeBonis · June 30, 2014