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Big Name, Big Deeds Fall Short in D.C. Contract Bid

Former Redskin George Starke was hoping that his work in the community would help his new company, Excel Associates, win a city fleet contract.
Former Redskin George Starke was hoping that his work in the community would help his new company, Excel Associates, win a city fleet contract. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

George Starke rushed out of the D.C. Council chambers yesterday, frustrated that the council unanimously voted to renew a contract with a Cincinnati-based company that describes itself as the country's largest provider of fleet management services for the public sector.

It turns out that Starke -- a retired Washington Redskins lineman called "Head Hog" in part because of his hulking 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame -- is too small.

His company, that is.

During the last year, Starke, 59, has been trying to convince the city that his new company, Excel Associates, could manage its fleet of police cruisers, scooters, motorcycles and other vehicles.

Excel Associates is a ''local small disadvantaged business enterprise." That's an LSDBE in city government-speak and the kind of business that city officials say the District needs in order to reinvest tax dollars in the community.

The Excel Institute, a separate nonprofit organization co-founded a decade ago by Starke and parking magnate John Lyon, trains troubled youths and adults to become auto mechanics. Many of the institute's 500 graduates work for Metro, Jiffy Lube, National Tire and Battery, Delta Air Lines, Wal-Mart and various car dealerships, institute managers said.

But Excel Associates, the for-profit LSDBE, "has no past experience or any history of past performance" maintaining a large fleet of vehicles, according to a summary explaining why Excel lost the bid for a two-year, $11.4 million contract to First Vehicle Services. Its president, J. Michael Bloss, described First Vehicle during a hearing last month as an $11 billion international enterprise.

The bidding process is an example of the city's struggle to weigh supporting small local businesses against large outside companies that can usually do the job cheaper or more efficiently. "I love George Starke, but as Tina Turner says, 'What's love got to do with it,' " said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). "I don't know if it's a logical jump to go from their core competency of training to this kind of work."

But to Starke, a man of ambition who has a hard time accepting "no," the idea makes perfect sense.

"Why would the District of Columbia choose to contract with a company from Cincinnati versus a company like me that reinvests in the city and young people?" he asked.

"The Office of Procurement, their job is not to look at the big picture," he said.

The small picture, the one more focused on dollars and cents, showed that First Vehicle Services was the better company by a 20-point difference on an evaluation scale. Five police department employees evaluated both companies based on experience, past performance, qualification of personnel, knowledge of technical requirements and the company's approach to meeting the demands of the contract.

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