D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp asked the city's auditor yesterday to examine a computer contract that increased from less than $1 million to nearly $9 million without council approval.
During a legislative meeting, the council voted to give the city's technology office retroactive spending authority to cover $6 million in expenditures and $3.1 million in outstanding invoices, all for a two-year-old contract to upgrade the city's personnel computer system.
Cropp (D) asked why the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement initially approved the contract for $999,999.99, one penny short of $1 million, the amount that requires council approval.
"I question the fact that it was not brought before the council," Cropp said. "Someone was trying to keep that document from coming to the council. ''
The city's technology office used the contract to hire Accenture, a technology services consulting firm. Accenture was ordered to stop work on the project this month after city officials were told they needed council approval to proceed.
Yesterday, Suzanne J. Peck, the chief technology officer, asked the council for authorization to cover the money spent and the $3.1 million owed to Accenture so that work could resume on the project.
Peck told council members that the cost of the contract increased when two orders totaling $7.9 million were added to the project.
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the council's Committee on Government Operations, drew attention to the contract when he wrote a letter to City Administrator Robert C. Bobb on Sept. 7. Orange, who criticized Peck during a committee hearing last week, recommended that the council authorize the payments yesterday.
Orange plans to hold another hearing Sept. 29 to question Peck, Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, and other officials about why millions of dollars' worth of contract payments were permitted without the council's approval.
Orange said he voted to authorize the payments because Peck said it would cost an additional $2.6 million if the project did not meet its December deadline. Orange, Cropp and several other council members said they want to know more about the process.
"Was it just the desire to get Accenture?" Orange said in an interview. "So you get them in the door and then you just give them modifications and task orders and run the contract up to $9 million without competition. This is an 800 percent increase over our original contract."
Council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) voted against the bill authorizing Peck to pay Accenture.
"These $999,999.99 contracts have to end," Schwartz said. "It makes a joke of our entire contracting system, and I'm tired of it."
Peck said her office has processed 11,000 invoices this year. "Of those 11,000, we screwed up 10 -- $3.1 million in invoices did not have funds approved by the council. It was a mistake, and we are very sorry for the error." Those invoices, she said, were found in a former employee's desk.
She said the procurement office had told her that she could spend up to $5 million a year per vendor without seeking council approval.
Cropp said the D.C. auditor needs to examine whether someone was trying to "go around the process."
Bobb said he understood why the council would want an audit of the contract. "If you are a penny below $1 million, that raises all kinds of suspicion."
He added that it is not unusual for city agencies to enter contracts that keep them from going through a lengthy process. He said he has established a task force in his office that is reviewing questionable contracts and the city officials responsible for awarding them.