Rexford G. Wessells Sr., 65, a retired procurement officer for the D.C. government whose acquisitions on behalf of the city included commonplaces such as paper clips and exotica such as human skeletons, died Aug. 15 at Fairfax Hospital of complications after heart surgery. He lived in Fairfax.
Mr. Wessells worked in the procurement office from 1948 to 1971 and for the last 14 of those years he was the chief. He bought a bull for the milk cows kept at the D.C. correctional complex at Lorton, he bought parking meters for the city streets, and he bought toys, racks of women's and girls' clothing, police weapons and badges, tons of codfish and the services of morticians. The clothing was for wards of the city and the cod for the occupants of various institutions -- it was consumed at the rate of nearly three tons a month. The skeletons were for area medical schools.
A slender, witty man who was partial to bow ties, Mr. Wessells became known for his efforts to keep the city's expenses at a minimum by stimulating competition among bidders and encouraging standardization of needs.
One of his notable successes involved the purchase of cod liver oil.
"I found that several departments were buying it separately, for people in the various institutions," he said in an interview with The Washington Post. "By pooling their orders and buying in quantity, we got the same cod liver oil, in the same containers, at a savings of about 95 percent per bottle."
Mr. Wessells was particularly watchful for signs of collusion among suppliers that could lead to price rigging.
He once threw out all of the bids for a rock salt contract when he found that three of four bidders had submitted the identical bids. In another instance, he analyzed the contracts of the city's electrical equipment suppliers and found evidence that the companies were deciding among themselves each year which firm would submit the lowest bid.
In 1959, Mr. Wessells received the Melvin C. Hazen Award from the Washington Junior Chamber of Commerce and the American Security & Trust Co. for procurement policies that saved city taxpayers a documented $461,000 during a single fiscal year.
Mr. Wessells was born in Washington. He graduated from the old Central High School and George Washington University. During the 1930s, he worked for the old Washington Times Herald and the Washington Daily News.
He joined the D.C. Health Department in 1940 as an ambulance driver. He became the city's deputy procurement officer in 1948 and was promoted to procurement officer in 1957. He retired in 1971.
Mr. Wessells was a past president and fellow of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing and a member of the American Public Works Association, the Federal Supply Board, and the National Association of Purchasing Agents. He also was a member of the Cherrydale United Methodist Church in Arlington.
Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Marguerite B., of Fairfax; a daughter, Barbara Robinson of Woodbridge; a son, Rexford G. Jr., of Fairfax, and two grandchildren.