A D.C. government employee, after serving on a committee that told a city agency it should hire a consultant, quit her job and within seven months got a $97,515 contract to perform the recommended work.
Several D.C. Council members have questioned whether the contract award was appropriate, and the chairman of the council's contracting committee has asked his staff to review the case.
Lisa Morgan worked in the city's technology office last year and served on the 49-member steering committee that studied problems at the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and, among dozens of recommendations, suggested that it hire a consultant to study its customer service operations.
In September 2004, while the committee was in the middle of its work, Morgan established a consulting firm called Simple Solutions. She left her government job in December, after the committee had made its recommendations, and in July, her firm received the contract with Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Another company submitted a bid for the two-month contract that was $30,000 lower than the one submitted by Simple Solutions. But a DCRA official recommended Morgan's firm based on her work on the steering committee and her experience as director of customer service operations for the city administrator from 2000 to 2002.
Morgan said her decision to leave city government and start Simple Solutions had nothing to do with her involvement on the steering committee. She noted that before joining D.C. government in 1997, she had been employed at a national consulting firm that did work for states, counties and municipalities.
"I would not need to have a contract based on friendships," Morgan said. "I have skills. . . . I did very good work in government. Given my track record, [the contract] makes a lot of sense, if it's awarded fairly."
City officials said the contract with Morgan does not appear to violate the District's conflict-of-interest law, which prohibits former city employees from communicating with their former agencies as contractors or lobbyists for a period that ranges from one to two years, depending on the jobs they held. Morgan never worked for the DCRA.
But council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who serves on the council committees that oversee the DCRA and contracting, said the contract "certainly is a violation of the spirit" of the law.
"You should not participate in the decision-making of government and then benefit personally from that decision in a short turnaround," Fenty said. "That's a type of coziness that the old D.C. government used to practice and the residents feel is borderline corruption."
Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the contracting committee, said his staff members will review the law "to make sure everything is appropriate" in the Morgan case. He questioned why Simple Solutions did not provide training for DCRA employees, as the contract had called for. An agency official said the company did not fulfill the training component of the agreement because of time constraints.
Morgan joined D.C. government as a senior policy analyst for the chief financial officer, making $65,594 a year. When she left in December, she was director for special projects for the technology office, earning $117,987 a year.
The steering committee on which she served from August to November 2004 was formed by the city's Center for Innovation and Reform and included officials from various city agencies. Among the other committee members was Patrick Canavan, then the head of neighborhood services for the mayor's office.
In January, Canavan became the DCRA's director. Morgan recalls mentioning to him at the time that she had started a consulting firm.
Linda Argo, the DCRA's director of customer service, said Canavan was eager to act on the steering committee's recommendation to hire a consultant and tried to award a sole-source contract to Morgan's firm. But the city's contracting office raised objections because contracts of more than $25,000 require more than one bidder.
City documents show that others were asked to bid and given two days to submit proposals. Another firm, All-U-Need Personnel, submitted a bid of $67,756 and noted that for the past four years, it had trained eight employees to provide customer service for DCRA.
After comparing the two proposals, Argo recommended to the city's contracting office that Simple Solutions receive the award. She said she gave "significant consideration" to Morgan because she had served on the steering committee that evaluated the agency's weaknesses and years earlier had developed a citywide customer service program.
Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said Morgan's position on the committee might have given her an unfair advantage.
"Is somebody supposed to hear about it and in two days get a proposal back as good as someone sitting on the task force?" Brown asked.
Another factor cited by Argo in her evaluation of the Simple Solutions bid was the involvement of Lisa Mallory-Hodge. Mallory-Hodge also had served on the steering committee and, until January, was director of the Center for Innovation and Reform. By spring, Mallory-Hodge had joined the team that Simple Solutions was proposing for the contract.
Argo wrote in her evaluation that Morgan's and Mallory-Hodge's government experience had "uniquely positioned" them to do the work and to "hit the ground running."
But after receiving the award, Morgan said, she and Mallory-Hodge decided that Mallory-Hodge should not be involved in the contract because she had been director of the government office that created the steering committee.
Morgan said the agreement with the DCRA was not the first contract for her firm. In January, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission gave Simple Solutions a contract for $187,500 to do a year-long study on the commission's organizational structure.
The DCRA contact ran from July to September. Morgan produced a report on the agency's customer service practices and gave a presentation, Argo said. She said the training component was dropped during the contract period because the review of customer service was so extensive and time-consuming.
Morgan said she told DCRA officials when she gave her final bid that she would not be able to train staff, although the paperwork she submitted said she would conduct pilot training and prepare a "cadre of internal trainers to develop follow-up sessions."
Orange said the city administration needs to justify selecting a contractor whose bid was $30,000 higher than a competitor's and whose work was not completed.
"We need to ensure it's an arm's-length transaction," Orange said. "At the end of the day, I pay $100,000, and you give me $100,000 worth of services. That's what was bargained for in the contract."