District officials yesterday released documents showing that a $23 million fuel contract that has been a source of controversy on Capitol Hill was competitively bid in 1982, but that the city extended the contract with a local firm several times without taking bids.
Mayor Marion Barry met yesterday with Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) in an effort to get him to change an amendment, attached last week to the District's fiscal 1986 appropriations bill, that would require that all city contracts be competitively bid. Regula had said his action was prompted in part by reports concerning the fuel contract.
Barry said the contract was put in the sheltered market for minority contractors in 1983 and extended without rebidding to Tri-Continental Industries Inc., the winner of the original award, because the city believed that company was the only minority firm that could fulfill the contract.
"If you find me another minority contractor who can do it, I'll put him to work tomorrow," Barry said after the meeting in Regula's office.
Regula said in an interview after the meeting that he still wants to require competitive bidding, although he said he is willing to modify the amendment so that it will not prevent the District from continuing its program that sets aside 35 percent of all contracts for minority contractors.
The fuel contract shows a need for more competition in city contracting because of the noncompetitive extensions, Regula said.
"At least there ought to be bids," Regula said. "In the Tri-Con case, there were no bids on the extension. It the extension was just a sole-source negotiated contract."
The House approved the appropriations bill yesterday in a 242-173 vote, after voting to add an amendment barring the use of any funds in the bill for abortion.
The amendment would prohibit the use of any local as well as federal funds for abortion, but congressional sources said it could easily be killed in conference with the Senate. The District funded 4,393 abortions for low-income women in fiscal 1983 at a cost of about $2 million, according to Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), author of the amendment.
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the District appropriations subcommittee, said modifications on the competitive bidding requirement would be made in a conference with the Senate on the bill.
Barry said requests for bids on the fuel contract, one of the largest awarded by the District, were sent to 41 firms in November 1982. Eleven bids were received, but only two met all the requirements specified in the request for bids, he said.
City officials later released a bid tabulation sheet listing the 11 bidders and noting why some were disqualified.
The low bidder was Tri-Continental at $23.3 million, according to documents provided yesterday. The other bidder that met the specifications was Steuart Petroleum Co., a major supplier to Tri-Continental, which came in just above Tri-Continental at $23.45 million.
Asked if the relationship between the firms appeared to present a conflict, Barry said that "at the time, I found it kind of strange that Steuart's bid was higher," but that he did not question it further.
The District negotiated a better price with Tri-Continental for the second and third years of the contract, largely because of declining international oil prices, Barry said. The latest one-year extension through September 1985 was valued at $18.76 million, according to city documents.
In a memorandum justifying the extension, city contracting officials said Tri-Con was the only certified minority firm with the necessary management expertise and resources as well as a large fleet of delivery trucks.
The current extended contract expires Sept. 30. William B. Johnson, D.C. director of administrative services, said yesterday that the contract would be put out for competitive bids, probably in late August or early September, "if the market is amenable to it."
Leonard Steuart, president of Steuart Petroleum, said that the bidding between his company and Tri-Continental in 1982 was competitive, despite the fact that his company was a supplier of Tri-Continental at the time.
"It happens all the time. It's routine in the industry," he said. "I don't know how they underbid us. We lose bids every day."