Due to erroneous information from D.C. government officials, an article yesterday incorrectly stated that Executive Services Inc. and United Minerals and Energy received no-bid contracts from the District. In fact, Executive Services bid against several firms for the contract cited by the city, and an attorney for United Minerals and Energy said the contract listed was never awarded to the firm. (Published 6/27/87)
Officials charged with overseeing the District's contracting process told a D.C. Council committee yesterday that more than 400 contracts have been awarded or proposed without competitive bidding since October 1985 -- many of them on "questionable" criteria, according to council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large).
Kane closely questioned agency heads from the D.C. departments of Public Works, Human Services, and Housing and Community Development and the inspector general's office, saying that many items on a list of such contracts "popped out" at her as potential problems.
In many cases, she said, no-bid contracts seemed to have been awarded for reasons other than those specified as permissible under the procurement law, which has been in force since Feb. 21, 1986.
The law stipulates that all city contracts be awarded through competitive bidding unless there is only one possible source; the award is related to real property transactions, according to a General Services Administration schedule, or if the purchase is made on an emergency basis.
A revamped procurement practices law enacted 16 months ago has not yet been implemented as government officials have waited for rules to be drawn up to accompany the new ordinance.
"I am troubled by some of the agencies' ad hoc answers, where it always seemed to be a 'special case,' " Kane said after she asked officials to justify a variety of sole-source contract awards. The officials testified yesterday before the council's Government Operations Committee in the first of two days of hearings into the city's procurement process. Kane chairs the committee.
D.C. contracting has been under scrutiny by federal law enforcement authorities since 1984, and criticism of contracting has stepped up since the disclosure on May 22 of an undercover probe of contracts, and the guilty plea the same day of former deputy mayor for finance Alphonse G. Hill on fraud conspiracy and tax evasion charges.
A number of the contracts supplied at the committee's request by Ray Lambert, acting director of the Department of Administrative Services, have been either subpoenaed or are under investigation in connection with the contracting investigation.
The list included 400 contracts -- totaling $98 million -- that were awarded in fiscal 1986 or proposed for the current fiscal year. Council staff aides expressed doubts concerning the accuracy of the list. Total D.C. contracting in fiscal 1986 was an estimated $473 million.
In many cases, Kane said, the awards went to firms that appeared to provide routine services such as security guards, day care or consulting. In one instance, a $15,600 contract was awarded for the services of a stock clerk.
"We're not talking about optical scanners," said Kane, questioning whether readily available services should not be competitively bid. "We're talking about something that, if you look at the Yellow Pages, the city appears to be full of them."
Federal authorities are probing contract awards to several firms that were included on Lambert's list. It could not be determined in each case whether the contracts listed are the same as those under investigation. These companies include: OAO Services Inc., which received a sole-source contract for $800,000 to computerize the city's water and sewer billing system. Contracting officials at the Department of Administrative Services alleged in 1985 that OAO Services falsified its credentials to obtain a $4 million computer contract. Executive Security Inc., which received a no-bid $3.5 million contract to provide security guard services. A federal grand jury subpoenaed contracts awarded to this firm by Department of Administrative Services on May 22.
United Minerals and Energy, a Gaithersburg firm, which received a $233,333 contract for "social development services" from the human services department. The FBI last month searched contractor John B. Clyburn's offices for evidence of contacts with this firm.