The top appointed official in D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration took an “extraordinary” step of trying to appease one of the mayor’s largest campaign donors by urging city attorneys to quickly settle unresolved contract disputes between the District and his company, according to a report released Wednesday by the head of a D.C. Council committee. The action by D.C. City Administrator Rashad M. Young led to $4 million in taxpayer settlements with Fort Myer Construction, ending the city’s previous opposition to such payouts, according to the report.
Young also took the “unprecedented” step, according to the report, of directing Bowser’s head of contracting to more than double work set aside for minority-owned construction firms around a new Southeast practice facility for the Washington Wizards. That move was also “designed to benefit” Fort Myer Construction. At another point, an unidentified city official illegally shared confidential information to benefit Fort Myer Construction, the report said.
Those findings were in a nearly 1,000-page document compiled by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) as part of an investigation into alleged contract steering and preferential treatment afforded by the Bowser administration to Fort Myer Construction. The report comes as Bowser (D) prepares to launch her expected campaign for reelection to a second term.
The report is likely to result in more questions than answers about the conduct of top Bowser administration officials.
Asked for his reaction to Cheh’s report Wednesday, Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, wrote in a text message, “Malarkey.”
Young did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Fort Myer Construction did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Young is already at the center of a school lottery scandal in which he and other top Bowser administration appointees were able to secure special placement for their children in coveted public schools, according to an investigation by the city’s inspector general.
Cheh, the head of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, launched a rare D.C. Council review of alleged contract improprieties involving Fort Myer Construction last summer, after one of the most accomplished members of Bowser’s administration — retired Navy Rear Adm. Christopher Weaver — resigned abruptly as director of the Department of General Services.
Days after Weaver’s resignation from the agency that oversees major contracts, the Bowser administration placed Weaver’s associate director and a deputy general counsel on leave. Later, the two alleged they were fired to appease Fort Myer Construction, which lost a lucrative bid to prepare city sites for the Wizards’ facility and a planned soccer stadium for D.C. United at Buzzard Point.
Cheh, whose committee oversees the agency, said she wanted a hearing to determine whether there were improper attempts to influence the contracting process in favor of Fort Myer Construction. Her committee conducted 22 hours of closed-door testimony, and she and committee members had battled in private for months about how far to go in drawing conclusions from the testimony.
On Wednesday, those disputes bubbled into public view as Cheh moved to release the testimony while council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) unsuccessfully tried to stop her.
The committee voted 3 to 1 to release the testimony, and Cheh separately released a report entitled “Findings and Recommendations of Mary M. Cheh on the Department of General Services Contracting and Personnel Management.”
Cheh’s report concludes that, under Bowser’s tenure, “someone in the District government” acted illegally to benefit Fort Myer Construction by sharing confidential information about a competitor’s bid on the work related to the Wizards facility.
The report says Weaver had planned to investigate the leak but was forced to resign before he could do so.
Young and other aides to the mayor forcefully have previously defended their actions involving both contracts, saying that under Weaver, the Department of General Services had changed the long-standing formula for scoring bids, raising the scale for evaluation from a maximum of 100 points to 200 points.
Agency officials say the change significantly increased the number of points that a contractor could receive for technical know-how, which they said would benefit small, local, minority-owned companies. But some minority contractors and Bowser administration officials objected, saying the larger scale diluted the points that D.C. companies can earn for minority status.
Falcicchio stressed that the dispute the mayor’s office had with Weaver was over the change in how contracts were scored. “Employees at one agency cannot change the District’s long-standing small business policy without consultation, authorization or notification," he said in a statement Wednesday night.
Young and the mayor’s office said last year that they were not informed of the change in scoring, but testimony by Department of General Services staffers released Wednesday contradicted those accounts.
In a previous interview with The Washington Post, Young said he “did not care” whether Fort Myer Construction won or lost either contract. Young said he became involved in each decision only after Fort Myer Construction threatened protests, which he said could have delayed both projects.
According to Cheh’s report, Young testified that he looked into other ongoing contract disputes with Fort Myer Construction to sway the company from protesting and delaying construction on the Wizards facility.
Fort Myer Construction filed a protest delaying the work anyway.
The report also sheds new light on Weaver’s resignation.
Ana Harvey, Bowser’s director of small business development, testified that Weaver told her that he was “being pressured by the City Administrator to award the contracts to Fort Myer Construction because Fort Myer Construction said they were ‘not getting enough contracts.’ ”
Weaver also testified that he resigned rather than carry out an order to fire his top deputy and agency general counsel, both of whom had opposed awarding contracts to Fort Myer Construction over concerns in one case about cost, and in other about whether Fort Myer Construction had been truthful on an application for the work.
Weaver testified that he told Young he would leave rather than carry out the firings because “in the world I come from and that I grew up in, this is something I cannot do.”
In one colorful exchange, after Weaver’s departure, the report alleges a lobbyist for Fort Myer Construction boasted of costing Weaver his job and warned Harvey not to get in Fort Myer Construction’s way during an encounter in an upscale D.C. restaurant.
“I already got rid of that f----- Weaver, so watch it,” the report attributes to the company’s lobbyist.