WE KIND OF knew that those fancy computers in the District Building were capable of answering weird, seemingly contradictory commands -- but how can they justify the strange spending policies of two different Mayor Barrys: Marion the Frugal and Marion the Wastrel? MTF, the better known of the two, is the one who comes down hard on your favorite service or agency in the name of sound management. But then there is MTW, who reportedly is wasting as much as $5 million to $7 million a year through chaotic and piecemeal purchasing. His insistence on doing it this way is forcing the council to react.
The reports of waste are not new. Staff writers Sharon LaFraniere and Karlyn Barker reported last August that the city was paying 26 percent to 79 percent more than governments in surrounding jurisdictions for commonly purchased supplies. They also found that city officials regularly circumvent rules meant to ensure competitive bidding. The city's department of general services, for one, was said to have awarded more than $500,000 in repair jobs last year to contractors whose competition included companies that were related to each other, to a defunct firm and even to phantoms who bid in the name of a dead man and to companies whose owners deny they sought work.
In an article this morning, the same reporters note that nothing much has changed since the earlier reports or, for that matter, since the D.C. Council complained to the first mayor, Walter Washington, eight years ago about the city's purchasing and warehousing system. The only significant change is that more than a few council members are ready to legislate improvements -- and they should. Mr. Barry doesn't support legislation, but he doesn't have a good argument for preserving the current system of scattered purchasers and od prices.
Essentially, the legislation would centralize purchasing authority and improve the inventory and purchasing information system. Mr. Barry argues that this is an attempt to dictate how the executive should delegate purchasing power and allocate staff. Maybe -- but who's picking up the tab? Congressional committees, the Government Accounting Office and the experts have said the District's policy is wasteful and prone to abuse. The council's proposal is scheduled to come up next Tuesday. A vote to approve this measure would be a sound investment -- worth millions.