A top deputy of the District agency that oversees billions of dollars of federal and local health-care spending was fired this week after she was accused of trying to steer a lucrative city contract to favored minority business vendors, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
Jennifer Campbell, a four-year employee at the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance and the agency’s most recent chief operating officer, was dismissed Monday after she was placed on administrative leave last week, city officials said. Agency Director Wayne Turnage confirmed Campbell’s termination but declined to comment further, calling it a “personnel matter.”
But documents indicate that Turnage was concerned that Campbell attempted to steer part of a pending contract to create a health-care exchange to Darryl Wiggins, a businessman who chairs the reelection campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).
The federally funded health-care exchange, set to be put out for bid this summer, is part of the District’s compliance with the federal health-care overhaul signed by President Obama in 2010.
The dismissal demonstrates the growing sensitivity within city government over allegations of improper or unethical behavior after two council members pleaded guilty and resigned over wrongdoing during the past six months. A separate federal probe of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign continues.
“I have been told that it is widely known that Jennifer Campbell has been meeting with minority vendors in an effort to put together a team that would submit a bid as a prime for the insurance exchange network,” Turnage wrote Gray administration officials. “Moreover, there are allegedly persons shopping themselves to minority business owners stating that they have contacts in DHCF contracting office that will ensure a successful bid if they of course partner with the right persons.”
Turnage has asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate the matter.
In an interview, Campbell strongly denied that she was attempting to steer a contract and said she met with Wiggins only once — at a meeting arranged by Turnage.
Campbell also said she only learned about the reasons for her dismissal after they were first reported by Washington City Paper on Monday. Campbell said she suspects that she may be the victim of a politically motivated attack after she questioned a separate exchange contract that a potential bidder was attempting to obtain.
“I think the truth will come out,” Campbell said. “I am between being disturbed and being hurt. I would think when allegations are made by vendors who certainly have something to gain . . . I would at least be given due process, but I was not given due process.”
At issue, according to correspondence between Turnage and administration officials, is how various companies have jockeyed to potentially bid on the contract. The exchange, estimated to cost $70 million to set up, is designed to be a one-stop online portal where District residents can compare insurance options and then purchase one.
CGI, an international information technology company, had emerged as a leading contender for the contract. But under city rules, 35 percent of the contract’s value must go to a certified local disadvantaged business.
On June 3, Turnage wrote to his chief of staff that a senior CGI official called him to say the company was being pressured into partnering with Document Managers, a business owned by Wiggins.
“A call came from VP of CGI that she had been contacted, unsolicited by Jennifer Campbell, our chief operating officer,” Turnage wrote. “In this telephone conversation, Jennifer reportedly explained to her that it was in CGI’s interest to take a look at a gentleman named Darryl Wiggins as a minority partner.”
Turnage added: “CGI’s vice-president said . . . this was a very difficult and awkward situation and is understandably concerned about the potential ramifications.”
Campbell and Wiggins say they are baffled that such an assertion would be made.
“I can say that is not true, and that the allegation is unfounded,” Campbell said. “I do not know Mr. Wiggins. I can say I have met him, did meet with him, but met with him during a meeting Director Turnage had called.”
Campbell said Document Managers was one of several companies that Turnage invited to his office this spring for a meet and greet to discuss the upcoming exchange contract.
In May, Turnage held another round of meet and greets for companies that may be interested in the contract, including CGI, Campbell said. During that meeting, Campbell said Turnage appointed her as the liaison between the firms and the office.
A few days later, Campbell said she got a call from Holly Klug, a CGI vice president, inquiring about the credibility of potential local minority partners.
Campbell said she didn’t recognize several companies on Klug’s list but told her that Document Managers has “done business with the District and I believe have done business with DHCF.”
“All I really did is answer their questions about minority business enterprises and how they can find out more about them,” Campbell recalled.
Klug did not return calls seeking comment.
Wiggins is also perplexed by Campbell’s firing. It puts Wiggins, an influential adviser to Bowser, in a major rift with the Gray administration just as Bowser has begun sending signals she may run for mayor in 2014.
Wiggins said he initially wanted to partner with Dell to bid on the exchange contract. But he said professional colleagues introduced him to CGI, which had recently won contracts to launch health exchanges in other states.
Wiggins, who stressed he was just part of a team of local businesses exploring a partnership with CGI, said he met with Klug, who told him that she “had a meeting coming up with Jennifer Campbell and was going to ask Jennifer Campbell about our company to see if we were reputable.”
Last month, he said, he met Klug to begin forming a “teaming agreement.” But Wiggins said the deal collapsed about 10 days ago after Klug told him the “D.C. government is unethical.”
Campbell said she suspects CGI went to Turnage to retaliate against her because she said she did not quickly approve a separate health information technology contract it was bidding on.
“I thought there were some things on it that needed to be cleaned up” before the contract was approved, Campbell said.
Wiggins visited Turnage in his office last week, according to an e-mail Turnage sent to Gray’s chief of staff, Christopher Murphy.
“He felt his reputation was under attack,” Turnage wrote. “I closed the meeting by telling Mr. Wiggins that it was my job to protect the integrity of the contracting process for one of the District’s most significant procurements and, because of that, we take the charges against Jennifer quite seriously.”