Former D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt has been awarded a $236,000 contract by the D.C. Department of Health to be the city's liaison to federal homeland security offices and to explore opportunities to use improved communications and technology to protect the city from bioterrorism.

Pratt, who was the city's Democratic mayor from 1991 to 1995, was selected because her five-year-old consulting company "has the capability to provide the necessary expertise based on its established relationships," according to the contract.

Funds for the contract came from a $156 million federal appropriation for police and emergency services to protect the city from crime and terrorism. The money was approved in late 2001.

Michael S.A. Richardson, a deputy director in the health department, said the six-month contract was signed in February after the city determined that it needed its own homeland security office and a liaison to handle local and regional issues with the federal agency.

"She's supposed to look at bioterrorism and emergency preparedness: Where does public health fit in?" Richardson said. "Her particular skill is that she was the mayor. She came with some big management expertise before she was mayor. We needed someone to represent and to think strategically as to how, where and what we need to do to interact with that office. It's very quickly buying some expertise to make sure you're not behind the eight ball."

Pratt did not have to compete for the contract. It did not go directly to her because her firm is not registered with the District as a local, small or disadvantaged business -- companies the mayor has ordered to be given first preference. Pratt Consulting also is not on the city's schedule of approved contractors.

Instead, the consulting contract was awarded to the Temple Group, a management consulting firm that has done business with the city for more than four years, and subcontracted to Pratt. The Temple Group is headed by Lorraine H. Brown, a friend of Pratt's, said Pratt's spokeswoman, Carolyn Bowden. The Temple Group will receive $21,000 of the $236,000 as a project management fee.

Under the agreement, Pratt is to meet with high-level government officials and write a report outlining opportunities and tentative communications and resource-sharing agreements. The report is to include timelines for achieving collaborative goals and solutions to potential obstacles. She is also to look for funding sources that will allow the health department to continue to build and improve its bioterrorism-preparedness program.

The contract was awarded on an emergency basis because the Office of the National Capital Region Coordination, within the federal Department of Homeland Security, was getting off the ground. Pratt was given a Jan. 31 deadline for completing a work plan, but the contract wasn't signed until Feb. 10.

Richardson, who has headed the health department's bioterrorism office since July, acknowledged that Pratt does not know "specifically" about bioterrorism but said that she has expertise stemming from her work with Ingenium Corp., a Prince George's County technology company that specializes in developing highly secure communication networks.

"To take us through a newly created federal department is a high-level and complex production," Richardson said. "This is ongoing work. It's a difficult job."

Richardson said that no one in the administration pressured him to give Pratt the contract.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) could not be reached to comment, and his spokesman, Tony Bullock, said he did not know whether the mayor was aware of the contract. Last fall, when Pratt appeared at a rally to endorse Williams for mayor, she was living in New York.

Pratt declined to talk with a reporter about the contract, which can be extended for six months if the health department determines it is necessary.

Bowden, Pratt's spokeswoman, said that the former mayor has moved back to the District and that she "wants to maintain a quiet lifestyle. How she makes a living now is not open for public review."

Bowden said Pratt Consulting is a management consulting firm that works with federal, state and nonprofit agencies. "She's been trying her hand at different things," Bowden said.

Pratt does not have an office and is working in the Connecticut Avenue NW suite of the Temple Group, a firm that specializes in the management of construction projects.

A city health department official acknowledged that Sharon Pratt does not know "specifically" about bioterrorism.