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A blind eye on D.C. contracts

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DISGUSTED BY WHAT he viewed as inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct in 2008, Robert G. Andary, then head of internal affairs in the District’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO), planned to confront D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). “Sordid quid pro quo” was the description used by Mr. Andary, who, in newly unsealed testimony, revealed that he never got the chance to raise the issue with Mr. Graham because his higher-ups objected.

“Both of them were adamant that I not discuss it with Graham,” Mr. Andary said, identifying top OCFO deputy Angell Jacobs and OCFO general counsel David Tseng. Asked if they said why, Mr. Andary said, “No, but I assume it’s because he’s a powerful member of the council with jurisdiction over the CFO’s office . . .” A spokesman for the OCFO declined to comment.

The account by Mr. Andary, former director of oversight for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, provides troubling evidence of an apparent willingness to turn a blind eye to questionable activity involving valuable public contracts. Little wonder that D.C. officials tried so long to keep this and other depositions from public view, along with documents from Mr. Andary’s investigation of Mr. Graham’s conduct.

Mr. Andary’s Feb. 10 deposition was given as part of the federal lawsuit brought by former OCFO contract officer Eric W. Payne. Mr. Payne claims he was fired after resisting political pressure concerning a bid for the D.C. lottery and filing complaints about alleged improprieties in OCFO operations. Mr. Andary had been brought in to investigate allegations by Mr. Graham against Mr. Payne. Mr. Andary found the Graham allegations to have no merit, but his inquiry led him to examine Mr. Graham’s own conduct. He found evidence that Mr. Graham, then a member of the Metro transit board, offered to support a businessman’s bid for the city’s lottery contract if another company he was involved in would drop out of a Metro development deal. A belated Metro investigation this year echoed Mr. Andary’s concerns and led the Metro board to conclude that Mr. Graham had violated the transit agency’s code of conduct.

Mr. Graham has denied any wrongdoing. In reply to an inquiry from the D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability, which is conducting a preliminary investigation into the matter, Mr. Graham’s attorneys attacked the Metro investigative report, conducted by an international law firm, as factually and legally flawed. Even if he conditioned his support for one contract on another — and Mr. Graham now disputes accounts of a meeting in which the offer was allegedly made — his attorneys suggested that it was nothing more than “sharp-elbowed political behavior” done to further the public interest.

Mr. Andary had a different view, calling Mr. Graham reckless in bringing a complaint against Mr. Payne that was part of a political agenda tied to the lottery contract. Mr. Andary suggested that Mr. Graham’s actions — with “overtones of pay to play” — came close to violating the law. Mr. Graham’s attorney vigorously disputes that assessment, saying that none of the reviews of the events has produced any evidence of a crime.

It’s still unfathomable why neither the CFO nor the inspector general did more to get to the bottom of this — while the one person who tried to raise a red flag about political interference and other problems ended up losing his job. City officials say that Mr. Payne’s termination was unrelated to these events and was justified by problems with his performance.

On the day he was told to clean out his desk, Mr. Payne called the inspector general’s agent with whom he had been working and was reminded that there are protections for whistleblowers. That remains to be seen.

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