D.C. purchasing chief faults process used to award contract

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Banneker Ventures, a firm owned by a friend of District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, was awarded a $4.2 million contract to oversee construction of several recreational facilities in a bidding process amended to speed up the projects -- one that the city's chief procurement officer said Thursday that he would not use himself.

As part of the amended procedure, the D.C. Housing Authority and city agencies agreed to issue a request for qualifications, or RFQ, which is used to determine whether a vendor is qualified to do the work. Officials did not issue a request for proposals, or RFP, which seeks more detailed information about a specific project, including costs.

The process was the focus of a D.C. Council hearing Thursday. Council members, particularly Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), pressed the chief procurement officer, David P. Gragan, to say whether the approach was a best practice. Gragan finally said, "I would have done an RFP after an RFQ."

The hearing was a continuation of one that began Oct. 30 to provide council members with information about why and how millions of dollars in capital funds were routed from the Department of Parks and Recreation to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and then to the Housing Authority.

The transfers circumvented the council's oversight and the legal requirement that it approve contracts that exceed $1 million.

Testimony has revealed that the program apparently grew from $40 million in projects to between $82 million and $86 million. Banneker was given the authority to pick the subcontractors to construct the parks, recreation centers and ballfields. Many of those subcontractors had ties, both personal and political to the mayor. Fenty (D) has said he was not involved in the procurement process.

Larry Dwyer, director of the authority's Office of Planning and Development, told council members Thursday that he met with two officials from the deputy mayor's office: David Jannarone, chief operating officer, and Jacquelyn Glover, a project manager. Dwyer said they wanted to know whether the process could be speeded up.

Using just a request for qualifications "was part of a discussion about expediting the process," Dwyer said.

A five-member panel of Housing Authority and Fenty administration officials, including Glover, selected Banneker from among 13 bidders, according to earlier testimony and documents.

Glover, who declined to comment, is listed in documents provided to the council as having been a Banneker employee when the firm bid successfully to build the $33 million Deanwood Community Center. The Deanwood project is separate from the more than $80 million in projects now at issue.

City Administrator Neil O. Albert testified last week that, to his knowledge, Glover has never been an employee of Banneker, despite what was in the documents.

Omar Karim, owner of Banneker and Fenty's fraternity brother, did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Jannarone was the center of controversy this year when it was revealed that he and Sinclair Skinner, another friend and fraternity brother of the mayor's, were involved in donating a city-owned firetruck and ambulance to a town in the Dominican Republic.

When questions arose, the truck was returned to the city. Investigations into the matter are continuing.

Skinner is a principal of Liberty Engineering and Design, one of the subcontractors picked for the recreation construction. He also previously worked for Banneker, according several sources.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Nov. 16. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) issued a subpoena for the interim parks and recreation director, Ximena Hartsock, to appear then, because she did not show up to testify Thursday.

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