D.C. government officials said yesterday they will seek new bids for a telephone system for the new municipal office building, but City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2) said the decision appears to be an attempt to avoid a council investigation into the contracting process.
Wilson and other council members had called for the investigation after Jose Gutierrez, the former director of the D.C. Department of Administrative Services, which awards contracts, was demoted by Mayor Marion Barry.
The demotion occurred after Gutierrez claimed that City Administrator Thomas Downs was trying to influence the awarding of contracts, including the one for the telephone system, for political reasons.
Yesterday, William Johnson, who replaced Gutierrez, told the council's committee on government operations that instead of installing a new phone system in the municipal building by August, the city will embark on a five-month plan that would lead to awarding a contract in August.
Under the plan, the city would develop a new request for bids with the help of the General Services Administration and seek to begin installing phones in August, completing the process in November.
"If they start over, there is definitely nothing to investigate, because whatever priorities were done are over because you didn't award a contract," said Wilson. "To avoid any kind of investigation, they are starting over."
Johnson said the city's earlier request for proposals, which resulted in four bids, had been thrown out as insufficient, but officials continued to evaluate the bids.
The city has time to issue a new bid request because the opening of the center has been delayed from August to September or October, said Downs, who also appeared before the committee.
Thomas J. Mattingly, who said he was ousted as a communications specialist with the administrative services department because he opposed efforts to award city contracts to the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., said yesterday in a telephone interview that the decision to start a new bidding process for the municipal center could favor C&P.
"They could manipulate the RFP [request for proposals] and the evaluation process the way they did before Gutierrez wised up," said Mattingly.
After Gutierrez complained that politics had become a factor in awarding contracts, the mayor demoted him from his cabinet post and asked Herbert O. Reid Sr., Barry's legal aide, to investigate whether Gutierrez had violated any law or ethical standard as administrative services director.
Yesterday, City Council Chairman David A. Clarke said that if the mayor had asked, he would have advised him to have the investigation done by the Office of the Inspector General.
"I don't think that there is anything legally wrong with it," Clarke said. "I just think it would carry more weight to have the inspector general to do it."
Clarke said he believes that the City Council will conduct its own investigation into the contracting allegations.