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Auditor finds D.C. contracting problems

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

D.C. Council members harshly criticized the District's ability to oversee city contracts Wednesday, after a report from an independent auditing firm discovered "significant deficiencies."

The independent auditing firm KPMG found that of 131 competitive procurements investigated by the firm, only 30 had evidence that the city actually undertook a bidding process, as is required by law.

"This has been year after year. Why can't we get it fixed?" said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who ticked off a number of the report's findings during the meeting. "This is elementary."

Of the 13 emergency procurements sampled by the auditor, five of them did not have the necessary documentation for the auditor's office to establish that the emergency process -- which is reserved for floods, epidemics, riots, equipment failures and other similar events -- was appropriate.

"What is wrong with the Contracting and Procurement Office?" Councilwoman Mary Cheh asked.

"These contracts -- when they're mismanaged, mishandled -- cost us millions of dollars," she said.

In his State of the District speech Tuesday night, Mayor Vincent Gray called on the District to reform its procurement process.

"The reform initiative will streamline our purchasing and contracting practices, eliminate confusing and outdated rules, increase faith in the process while minimizing meritless protests, and reduce the time it takes to complete procurements," Gray said.

But on Wednesday, the council focused more on ineptitude and administrative failures than legal reform.

Some errors, such as confusion as to which government employees had the power to sign off on certain documents, could be solved by simply making a list, Mendelson said.

"It's not rocket science," said Charles Willoughby, head of the Office of the Inspector General. "It boils down to a lack of adequate supervision."

In the management response section of the report, officials write that when the city skips the competitive bidding process repeatedly with the same vendor, it "could hinder competitive practices, give the appearance of unfair advantages to select vendors, or result in missed opportunities."

Mendelson scheduled a meeting in about four months to review progress made on improving the District's handling of contracts and procurements.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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