The auditor for the D.C. Council is recommending that the city appoint an independent official to handle contracts after finding that Mayor Anthony A. Williams and City Administrator Robert C. Bobb circumvented procurement laws when they arranged last year to pay four consultants more than $150,000.
In a report dated June 3, Auditor Deborah K. Nichols said the Office of Contracting and Procurement, which now falls under the mayor's control, should be made "truly an 'independent' agency free from any pressure or constraints" from Williams (D) or Bobb.
"The City Administrator's action of identifying friends and associates, principally from Oakland, California, for non-competitive, sole source 'deals' with the District government resulted in transactions that were not: above reproach, 'arms length,' completely impartial, and free from the appearance of preferential treatment," Nichols wrote. "It is evident that the [mayor's office] has not learned any lessons from past procurement debacles."
Bobb's office declined to comment on the report. Aides to the mayor blasted Nichols, saying she had made her report to the council without giving Williams a chance to respond.
The mayor's deputy chief of staff, Gregory McCarthy, said Williams would nonetheless consider Nichols's findings. But, he said, "At the end of the day, I think you do want the contracting office to be accountable to an executive and the council."
The findings, first reported by the Washington Times, end Nichols's investigation into sole-source agreements issued by the mayor's office and Bobb outside normal procurement channels. Three of the four consultants knew Bobb from his former job as city manager in Oakland, Calif.
Two Oakland consultants, Lily Hu and Melinda Yee-Franklin, were paid $25,000 each to help plan a trade mission to China in October. There was no written contract authorizing their work or the payments to them, according to the report, and the contracting office was directed to find a way to pay them after they started work.
Oakland City Council member Jane Brunner received a contract worth up to $90,000 with the D.C. Department of Employment Services without the contracting office's authority. She was paid $8,667 and has billed the city an additional $29,000, according to the report.
The fourth consultant, Ira Sockowitz, was paid $19,900 to supervise Hu and Yee-Franklin in planning the China trip. His contract, originally for $26,500, was split into three purchase orders so the mayor's office could avoid having to justify its failure to seek other bidders, the report says.
Sockowitz's firm, Phoenix Consulting Group, also was given a contract for $75,000 to establish a "war room" to bring baseball to the District. "Contract records do not demonstrate that a credible competitive process was used to obtain these services," the report said.
Council Government Operations Committee Chairman Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who requested the investigation, said he will summon Bobb and other officials to testify about its findings later this month.
"The audit report is devastating," he said. "Everything will be on the table."