The U.S. Department of Argiculture, accusing the D.C. government of "negligence" in its storage of federally supplied food, has asked the city for about $57,000 in reimbursement for tons of beans, plums and dehydrated potatoes that spoiled in a city warehouse.
The warehouse, run by the D.C. Department of Human Resources, became a political issue this year when Democratic candidate Marion Barry denounced it as evidence of "gross mismanagement, sloth and criminal waste" in the city's nutrition programs.
Barry's criticism led to investigations by the District of Columbia auditor and the General Accounting Office, both of which reportedly major shortcomings in DHR's nutrition programs. In June, the human resources agency stopped using the controversial warehouse at 1126 First St. NE, near Union State, and began storing federally supplied food at a modern warehouse in far Northeast Washington.
John McClellan, deputy Mid-Atlatic regional administrator for the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the federal agency has asked DHR for $57,097.72 as a result of findings by Agriculture Department inspectors. The inspectors concluded that thousands of cases of green beans, purple plums and dehydrated potatoes - which may be reconstituted as mashed potatoes by adding water - had spoiled in the First Street warehouse because of what was described as "poor warehousing conditions." McClellan said these included rodent infestation, rain leakage and other storage problems.
The food stored in the city warehouse is distributed, free of charge, to low-income persons, including pregnant women, infants and young children. McClellan described the city's new warehouse, on V Street NE, as a "100 percent improvement over the old warehouse."
DHR director Albert P. Russo yesterday described the Argiculture Department's $57,097 clai as "a shock." He argued that some of the food had spoiled because it had been improperly packaged before it was delivered to the city by the federal agency. Russo said that the city may eventually agree to pay part of the spoilage costs, but should not be held liable for the full $57,097.
In a report issued last July 10, D.C. Auditor Matthew S. Watson said, "I believe that the District government must acknowledge shortcomings which led to or contributed to the spoilage of food (in the warehouse).
"Specifically," Watson added, "DHR made massive unnecessary orders of food from USDA. These excess quantities of food were required to be kept in long-term storage in a warehouse ill-suited for such a purpose. For example, DHR at various times has had in storage a four-year supply of instant mashed potatoes and a two-year supply of corn syrup.These over-orders resulted from DHR's failure to project its need for food."
Watson added that such food storage practices "should never have occured."
In a report in August, the General Accounting Office, Congress' auditing arm, also cited shortcomings in the DHR food programs, including "inadequate management of the food warehouse operations, poor inventory procedures and pratices, inaccurate and/or unavailable records and poor physical security."