Several D.C. City Council members accused the city's Department of Public Works yesterday of mismanaging several school construction projects, saying the poor work shows that the city has "no oversight" on contracts.
The department "has proven to be absolutely incompetent in awarding these contracts," said council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), who was among five members interviewed. "There is something incredibly wrong with who is getting this work and how it's being done and . . . it's ending up costing the taxpayers a great deal of money," he said.
The comments came after newspaper reports in which school officials complained about how the department handled about 30 repair projects between 1982 and 1984 that cost about $7.8 million.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) said, "There just seems to be a lax system for keeping people to standards. People who have a history of not doing a good job get back in the system."
Wilson and Kane joined members Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) in saying they would support school officials' efforts to gain complete authority to award construction and repair contracts for school buildings during upcoming budget hearings.
Smith, a former school board member, who inspected five public schools last week, said, "DPW policies for awarding contracts encourage deterioration. You can't get simple things done like window replacements until a whole bunch of them need repair."
"Why work is continually given to people who have proven themselves to be bad is incomprehensible," said Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), another former school board member. "I put the blame squarely on the Department of Public Works."
Public Works officials contend that school officials have painted an unfair portrait of their handling of school contracts. Harold Henson, director of the department's repair branch, said school officials have characterized jobs as unsatisfactory or late when department records show the work was done properly and on time.
In 10 cases where contractors did not perform, Henson said, the agency collected $70,000 in damages. He said Public Works officials recently hired a roofing specialist to advise them on these repairs, which have been a particular problem.
Horace Jones, acting assistant director of Public Works, said that the complaints of school officials stem in part from their lack of expertise in the complex area of construction.
School board members have formally protested to City Administrator Thomas Downs about the department's handling of contracts.
In one case that frustrated school officials, the department gave a contractor a satisfactory rating on a job after the school's chief of building and grounds complained in a 1984 memo that "we have experienced nothing but trouble" with him. The contractor was rehired last year for another major job, over the protest of the school's chief engineer, and failed to complete the work on time, school officials said.