‘Smart meters’ delayed over improper contract

Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post - The city’s plan to install credit-card-reading “smart meters” in all 6,500 taxicabs in the District has been indefinitely delayed after a panel of administrative law judges ruled Friday that a contract to install the meters was improperly handled.

The city’s plan to install credit-card-reading “smart meters” in all 6,500 taxicabs in the District has been indefinitely delayed after a panel of administrative law judges ruled Friday that a contract to install the meters was improperly handled.

The Contract Appeals Board ruled that the process that ended up selecting VeriFone Systems’ $35 million bid was riddled with “pervasive improprieties.” The company beat out seven other firms, including Creative Mobile Technologies and RideCharge, which mounted separate legal challenges in July.

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In their ruling, the judges said the city offered “meager” documentation to justify the VeriFone award. They also sharply criticized a city contracting officer for not doing an independent analysis of the bid proposals, adding that they were “troubled by the numerous unexplained and glaring errors, inconsistencies and oversights that clearly occurred” during the procurement.

The contracting officer, John R. Dean, was “a virtual no-show in the proposal evaluation,” wrote Judge Marc D. Loud Sr.

Dean is no longer employed by the city and could not be reached for comment.

It is not clear how long the “smart meter” rollout might be delayed. Officials unveiled the VeriFone system at an August news conference, sharing hopes that the system would be fully deployed in time for January’s inauguration festivities. But a judge halted installations in August pending her final decision, and now that the decision is in, that timeline now appears to be an impossibility.

The board ordered the city to cancel the VeriFone contract and accept new bids from VeriFone, CMT and RideCharge, which stands to take months.

But Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said “there are options here” short of restarting the entire procurement. The final decision on how to proceed, he said, rests in the hands of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and City Administrator Allen Y. Lew.

“It does not have to start from scratch,” Linton said. “There are other ways of doing this, and I’m going to lay them out.” Gray’s intent, he added, “is to have this happen as fast as possible.”

A. Scott Bolden, a lawyer representing CMT, said he was quite pleased with the ruling and doubted the city had any option except to redo the procurement.

“It’s in the best interest of the public for the best bidders to redo the process,” he said. “They put it out to bid once, they can put it out to bid again.”

—Mike DeBonis

 
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