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D.C. lax on city workers doling out contracts, audit finds

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Local,Liz Farmer

More than half of the District employees who award city contracts worth millions of dollars are not properly certified and none have been subject to a criminal background check, an audit has found.

The city's Office of Contracts and Procurement has habitually neglected training and requiring professional certification of the 23 full-time employees who dole out millions of dollars in contracts annually, according to the audit by the Office of the Inspector General. Just 10 of the 23 contracting officers have professional certifications.

Of the six officers who have no ceiling on how high their contract awards can be, just three have professional certification.

District law requires that procurement officers be certified. That so many at OCP aren't raises the question of whether the employees "had the necessary training and tools to effectively perform their contracting duties," the audit by Inspector General Charles Willoughby said.

In addition, the background checks were not required for any of the procurement positions -- even for "sensitive and high risk positions, such as those responsible for the health, safety and welfare of the general public, including positions that involve handling cash, awarding grants, and receipt of cash donations."

In a separate letter sent to the Mayor Vincent Gray in June, Willoughby said the low standard leaves the office and the city open to "a significant risk for fraud, waste, and abuse."

Chief Procurement Officer James Staton noted much of the oversight occurred before he took office and the agency is moving to formalize an agreement with the University of the District of Columbia to establish a training institute for procurement employees.

The office, formed in 1997, has had a history of lax training and certification requirements for nearly as long as it has existed. According to the audit, the issue first came up in a 2002 audit and twice more in reviews by the Contracting and Procurement Task Force in 2006 and the Government Accountability Office in 2007.

The separate letter to Gray recommends issuing a directive to District agencies

that requires each to identify sensitive and high-risk positions and consult with the D.C. Department of Human Resources to implement mandatory criminal background checks for those positions.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said the administration is "looking into the recommendations made by the IG and we'll move forward with insuring that all the proper checks and balances are in place for employees handling contracts."

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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