Federal Probe Casts Doubt on D.C. Contract Reform Effort
Monday, April 6, 2009
When then-D.C. Chief Technology Officer Vivek Kundra contracted with a company to oversee the agency's hiring of consultants last summer, he said his aim was to free employees from cumbersome paperwork and get the experts onboard faster.
But that wasn't the only reason Kundra put Optimal Solutions and Technologies in charge of nearly 100 subcontractors eager for a piece of as much as $75 million a year in technology contracts. The new system also prohibited city managers from dealing directly with subcontractors in an effort to get rid of what city employees and consultants have described as rampant cronyism.
The process, Kundra told city leaders during a D.C. Council oversight hearing in August, would be more efficient and transparent.
"The best disinfectant is more sunshine," he said.
But it appears that the changes didn't make the system more secure.
Last month, federal authorities arrested two technology office managers and a subcontractor, charging them with a bribery scheme that allegedly defrauded the city out of at least $500,000.
In an affidavit, federal agents said former technology security director Yusuf Acar did exactly what the new system was meant to prevent: He had regular conversations with Sushil Bansal, owner of a subcontracting company. The two men are charged with conspiring to steal money through a scheme that involved "ghost employees" and invoices submitted for products that were not delivered. (A former technology employee, Farrukh Awan, who had been working in the city's finance office, also has been charged.)
Today, D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, will hold an oversight hearing. As city officials seek answers about what went wrong, most of the attention has focused on the agency's employees.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) launched a pair of audits by independent firms, and the acting chief technology officer, Chris Willey, has ordered that all employees sign conflict-of-interest disclosure forms, previously a requirement only for managers.
Acar, who was the interim security director, never filed a disclosure form with the Office of Campaign Finance, according to city records. He did, however, award contracts to a company he co-owned, authorities said.
Who had oversight of the process? District government officials declined to discuss the case, citing the ongoing federal investigation. Kundra, who left in February after President Obama appointed him the nation's chief information officer, did not respond to messages.
And what about the role of Optimal Solutions and Technologies, a D.C.-based company founded in 1999 by Vijay Narula?