The report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General on the chief financial officer’s lottery contract award captures the amorality engulfing the District’s government. Note, I didn’t say “immorality,” which suggests a breach of moral standards. I chose “amorality,” which refers to the absence of a moral code. That applies to our government.
The inspector general’s office found that:
●The Department of Small and Local Business Development and the Small and Local Business Opportunity Commission, the two city entities responsible for approving companies to be certified business enterprises, improperly denied the application of a company called Digidoc. The development department also improperly approved the application of a company, Veteran Services Corp., that the inspector general said was ineligible for consideration under D.C. law. The certification makes a company eligible for preference points in competitive bidding on city contracts.
●The D.C. Council member who sponsored iGaming legislation — unnamed in the inspector general’s report but reported in news accountsto be Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) — was employed at a law firm that represents gambling interests, but he failed to alert council members of this before the council voted. The legislation passed.
●Another unnamed council member, identified in news reports as Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), allegedly told executives bidding on the lottery contract that he would support their bid if their local partner withdrew from another contract with a quasi-public entity on whose board he sat. According to the report, the council member allegedly told the executives that he “could not give the local partner everything.”
●The Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which awarded the lottery contract, should have recalled it for rebidding after CFO Natwar M. Gandhi and the D.C. Council became aware that a material change had been made to the contract after it was awarded and that the winning contractor was adding major, unvetted players to the team.
Despite those findings, the inspector general’s office concluded that it was unable to decide whether the condition of Veteran Services Corp., which improperly received an enterprise business certification, would have prompted the CFO’s office, had it been aware of the discrepancies, to reject the company as a joint venture partner.
Now, let us pause.
Two D.C. government entities, according to the inspector general, wrongfully refused certification to a qualified company. And there are no consequences?
You got it.
And the company that received the preference, even though it was ineligible for it under D.C. law? It is now the local partner in a joint venture that holds the multimillion-dollar D.C. lottery contract.
Standards? What a joke.
I happened to visit the office of Veteran Services Corp. in Southeast several weeks ago in connection with my inquiry into four $1,000 campaign contributions by the company’s four top officers to the sponsor of the iGaming legislation, Michael Brown. Company Chairman Barbara Bailey, who confirmed the donations, told me that the Brown reelection campaign had returned the contributions.
The inspector general’s report said it found no evidence that Brown lobbied or received anything on behalf of any gambling entity or that he did anything improper that resulted in the council voting for the legislation. Brown’s response? “The report speaks for itself.”
And Jim Graham? The inspector general concluded that, while the council member may have appeared to compromise his independence or impartiality in his capacity as a city legislator and a board member of WMATA, a quasi-public entity — which of course could harm public confidence in the integrity of government — it did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the council member had acted improperly.
Please see Friday’s Post editorial “Meeting Mr. Graham” for a different take. Graham also pointed out that the report said he did nothing wrong.
Absent in the IG’s 19-page report is any expression of concern about whether the documented behaviors were right or wrong. And that is the way things are done in the District these days: If certain conduct is not specifically prohibited, right or wrong doesn’t matter.
Oh yes, the report has also sparked a real dust-up with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. The report said Gandhi’s office should have amended a request for proposal from bidders after contract requirements set by the D.C. Council were changed.
On Thursday, the CFO issued a point-by-point rebuttal to the report, with Gandhi’s spokesman writing in his covering e-mail, “It is important to note that the section on [our office’s] actions does not cite any laws or relevant regulations that were violated, ignored or evaded.”
And there you have it. No nods to morality or to what’s right or wrong. As is common in our government, the only prevalent condition is the instinct for survival and, of course, getting over.