D.C.'s Barry accuses Catania of impropriety in contracts

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

D.C. Council member Marion Barry alleged Thursday that onetime friend and fellow council member David A. Catania unethically dispensed city contracts to George Washington University -- accusations that he could not substantiate.

In a highly unusual display of personal acrimony between council members, Barry (D-Ward 8) held a news conference to accuse Catania (I-At Large) of ignoring city laws on sole-source contracts to get funds for the university.

"This is about David Catania and his inappropriate acts," Barry said. "From what I can see, Mr. Catania, without anyone's knowledge, tried to figure out how to get around the law."

Until last year, the Catania-backed contract with the university was funded as an earmark, a process council members have since voluntarily curtailed because of concerns of abuse. This year, it was funded as a city contract that was not put out for bid, an arrangement allowed under certain circumstances. Barry said the switch in funding sources amounted to a violation of what he termed the Earmark Prohibition Act of 2010. But there is no such law, according to city budget staffers.

Catania, chairman of the Health Committee, declined to comment on Barry's assertions. But Benjamin Young, Catania's spokesman, called the allegations "ridiculous" and "sadly predictable," adding that Barry is trying "to deflect attention from his recent behavior."

Arguments over policy and politics are common on the council, but it's rare for a member to publicly question another's ethics or motivations. Barry's allegations, however, underscore how a once-friendly relationship has deteriorated to toxic levels in the past year after Barry opposed the District's same-sex marriage law, whose chief sponsor was Catania.

Since that vote, Barry has accused Catania of fueling the investigations into how the former mayor used city earmarks as the Ward 8 member. Barry is asking the inspector general's office and D.C. auditor to investigate Catania's role in securing more than $10 million in recent years for GWU's School of Public Health and Health Services so it can work on city programs for the uninsured.

Barry wants to know why the recurring consulting contract between the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance and the university was not put up for bid. According to District law, no-bid contracts should be used only if there is a single source, the contract is for the purchase of real property, or an emergency has been declared.

"The bottom line is Mr. Catania has participated in a scheme," Barry said in an interview. "There is no way you justify four or five years of sole-source agreements."

Young said the contract stems from a partnership between the city and GWU to develop policies to reduce the number of uninsured residents in the city.

Lashon Beamon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health Care Finance, said the agency was a sole-source contract because GWU has the only master's degree program in public health in the District. "We have access to the nation's most sought-after Medicaid policy experts . . . and their contract has been used to supplement our in-house capacity," said Beamon, adding that the contract has saved the District millions of dollars.

When the partnership was started in 2006, money for the contract between the Department of Health Care Finance and the university was an earmark. Catania, who has been a key leader in efforts to reduce the numbers of uninsured residents in the District, fought for the contract.

Catania's office said that from 2007 to 2009, Catania put the money in the budget at the request of city health officials who wanted the partnership to continue. Catania's office produced an e-mail from May 2006 in which Rob Maruca, who was a senior deputy at the District's Medical Assistance Administration, requested that $3 million be added to the fiscal 2007 budget .

"The contract with George Washington University was very effective," Maruca said in an interview. "Because we found it effective, we asked for it and got it."

But after council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) decided not to award earmarks last year -- in part because of the controversy surrounding Barry's use of them -- the money was not included in the fiscal 2010 budget. To keep the partnership with the university, the Department of Health Care Finance then arranged the sole-source contract, according to Catania's office.

Barry alleges that Catania pushed for the contract this year as a way to get around Gray's new earmark policy. On Tuesday, Barry is expected to ask the council to revoke the contract because there has been no detailed accounting of how GWU is spending District tax dollars.

Barry has been under an ethical cloud regarding earmarks. Last month, the council voted to censure Barry after an ethics investigation that concluded he personally benefited from a city contract he awarded to a girlfriend. The investigation also concluded that Barry diverted city earmarks to his friends and supporters. In the past, Barry has blamed Catania for some of his ethical woes, suggesting that he helped launch the investigations as political payback after Barry was the only council member to vote against Catania's bill to legalize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

But Barry said Thursday his decision to highlight the GWU contract was about "good government, accountability and transparency" and not about any feud with Catania.

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