December 18, 2013

AT ONE point in his effort to scuttle a contract for the management of city parking meters, D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) declared that he just wanted to make sure the public knows “exactly what’s going on here.” We share that hope: Mr. Orange’s efforts on behalf of a major campaign contributor should not be lost on D.C. residents. His unsavory campaign should bolster efforts to end the council’s noxious involvement in and politicization of city contracts.

A pay-to-play culture in D.C. government was on full display this week as the council debated who should get the city’s business for parking meter management. The District solicited bids in 2011, and Xerox was awarded a $33 million, five-year contract following a competitive procurement process that included evaluation by a technical panel. A challenge to the award filed by the losing competitor, WorldWide Parking, was soundly rejected by the Contract Appeals Board.

None of that mattered to Mr. Orange, who sought to substitute his judgment for that of the procurement professionals. Mr. Orange said he was acting only out of concern for taxpayers and denied that his stance had any connection to the $20,000 WorldWide and its related interests had contributed to his mayoral campaign in recent weeks.

WorldWide’s donations to Mr. Orange and two other council members running for mayor prompted a pointed “What were you thinking?” from council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) during Monday’s extraordinary public hearing.

New campaign laws will restrict bundled contributions in the future, and the council voted Tuesday, with Mr. Orange and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) dissenting, to approve Xerox’s contract. It’s absurd that it had to come to that. No other jurisdiction in the country allows its legislative body to interfere with what should be a dispassionate procurement process.

It is time for the District to follow suit. Legislation has been introduced to that end by council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), but it has been allowed to languish by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who, in­cred­ibly, used this week’s embarrassing debate as an argument for council involvement in contracts. He leaves the door open for companies to continue to think that they can resort to politics to get city business even when they lose a bidding process or lose in administrative court.