Department of General Services woes

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Local,Jonetta Rose Barras

The D.C. Department of General Services appears to be a general mess. There have been reports of overspending in the mammoth agency supposedly created to save money. These reports are now being compounded by questions about duplication of staff, allegations of abusive treatment of female employees and violations of personnel rules.

"Female employees are being terribly abused, mistreated, disrespected, mocked, ridiculed ... and totally humiliated," DGS employees wrote in a Jan. 13, 2012, letter addressed to President Obama and obtained by The Washington Examiner. "The city's local leaders have abandoned us and clearly care nothing about the government employees."

The employees, who requested anonymity, identified their alleged abuser as J.W. Lanum, the agency's $140,000-a-year chief procurement officer, responsible for development of contracting policies and overseeing all solicitations.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, who received a copy of the correspondence, said he "takes the allegations very seriously." He has summoned DGS Interim Director Brian Hanlon for a meeting Monday at the Wilson Building. "It's very disturbing anytime women employees say they are being mistreated."

I agree.

But, when I reached Hanlon on Friday and asked for a comment, he told me he would get back to me. He didn't. Instead, his spokesman, Darrell Pressley, essentially regurgitated Lanum's job description -- without addressing the women's charges of mistreatment.

"Complaints filed against specific employees are considered a personnel matter, which unfortunately, I would not be able to discuss," Pressley wrote in an email.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray created the DGS in fiscal year 2011 to save money. He combined several agencies and functions, including the Department of Real Estate Services and the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization. The DGS essentially deals with all of the city's capital construction projects -- building, for example, recreation centers, schools and fire stations. It has a huge operational budget of nearly $400 million. It has more than $300 million for projects, according to council budget documents.

Still, Gray recently asked the council to provide the department another $9 million to cover overspending in 2012. The administration's budget director said DGS hadn't foreseen increases in utility costs. Further, an adequate maintenance budget hadn't been developed for certain properties. You would think these problems would have been anticipated.

The council, thus far, has declined to act on the mayor's supplemental budget request.

The employees' letter raised additional questions about the agency's spending and how it's using personnel. It has a permanent staff of contracting and procurement specialists. Yet it has hired outside contractors, apparently at considerable expense.

For example, Karen Hester is a "consultant" brought in to serve as a "procurement liaison" to Lanum, according to Pressley. The job he described her performing appears to be similar the role performed by agency contract officers. Pressley also confirmed an assertion by the employees that the DGS has been using a politically connected law firm -- Leftwich & Ludaway -- to handle procurement solicitations.

What are Hester and Leftwich & Ludaway doing that can't be performed by DGS personnel?

How does an agency created to save money, justify the apparent duplication?

Pressley refused multiple requests by me to provide Hester's rate of pay. But he and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer confirmed in fiscal year 2011, DGS paid Leftwich & Ludaway $907,000.

So, the DGS is paying $140,000 for a procurement chief, an untold amount to consultant to the procurement chief and over $900,000 for a law firm to write procurement solicitations.

Gray sure has a strange idea about cutting costs.

Jonetta Rose Barras's column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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