How do you lose track of $28.5 million? That's what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to know. As Alan Blinder reported in The Washington Examiner's Monday cover story, District taxpayers could be forced to reimburse HUD for that amount to cover grants the city received in 2005 that were intended to turn Ward Seven's aging Skyland Shopping Center into a trendy new town center.
The project had been stalled for decades and almost died when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty closed down the National Capital Revitalization Corp., which had been offering 44 landowners large sums to relocate or evict 29 tenants on the 18-acre site.
Skyland redevelopment plans went back on the front burner when Mayor Vincent Gray made the project near his Hillcrest home a top priority and sweetened the pot with $40 million in city funds. Gray even bullied Wal-Mart into agreeing to open a store in Skyland after publicly threatening to withhold the giant retailer's building permits at four other locations.
Gray should have been making sure city officials were doing their jobs. Although demolition began last September, key documents -- including "sales contracts, settlement sheets, appraisals, deeds, letters to property owners, and wire transfers or checks" -- for the largest real estate project east of the Anacostia River are still missing. Nobody knows where they are.
Neither HUD nor D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Committee Chairman Jack Evans are buying it. "There's a trail, and they need to put the trail back together," Evans said. HUD has given the District until the end of this month to come up with the receipts.
D.C.'s ongoing failure to follow proper accounting and procurement procedures is not limited to Skyland. Last week, Examiner reporter Eric Newcomer reported that independent auditor KPMG reported that the city solicited bids SEmD as required by law SEmD in only 30 of 131 competitive procurements, or roughly 22 percent of the time. KPMG's random sampling of 13 "emergency" procurements found that documentation proving that there even was an emergency was missing in five cases.
Everybody who takes a deduction on their federal income tax return has to keep receipts, so this is not rocket science. Yet proper documentation continues to elude District officials. With the number of procurement experts in town, and with so much money at stake, there's no plausible excuse for D.C.'s failure to follow the rules.