The D.C Council continues to clash with the Bowser administration about the manner in which it secures contracts for city services. (Courtesy photo)
The D.C Council continues to clash with the Bowser administration about the manner in which it secures contracts for city services. (Courtesy photo)

The D.C Council continues to clash with the Bowser administration about the manner in which it secures contracts for city services — particularly those affecting the District’s youngest residents. 

Section 451b of the Home Rule Act requires the mayor to submit year-long contracts of more than $1 million to the D.C. Council for approval. Contracts are approved once, within a 10-day period, no council member submits a resolution approving or disapproving, or the council doesn’t disapprove it within a 45- calendar day period. 

Much to the chagrin of D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Bowser hasn’t been following protocol for contracts with the Department of General Services (DGS) and Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), the former of which had been cited by the Office of the DC Auditor for its mismanagement of work orders. 

According to a letter Lewis George sent D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on Feb. 2, DGS and CFSA extended yearlong contracts with vendors using a “partial” option that would keep the new arrangement at under a year and below the $1 million threshold. 

Well after the services were underway, both agencies sought council approval for the “partial” option and a new contract for the remainder of the year, both of which added up to $1 million. 

On Feb. 7, the D.C. Council deliberated on nearly two dozen contracts fitting this profile. This has been the case for hundreds of contracts in recent years. 

Lewis George, chairperson of the Committee on Facilities and Family Services, pledged to disapprove retroactive contracts in the future that lack the substance and quality of work she deems adequate. She did so noting that leaving the council out of the contract approval process not only catches council members off guard, but denies constituents any opportunity to scrutinize city agencies.  

“If a contractor is not delivering the quality services that our communities need, we need to be able to address that. If a contractor is not providing enough value for the District’s investment, we need to be able to fix that,” Lewis George told The Informer. 

“Submitting contracts to the council late also suggests that an agency has not done thorough planning for the year ahead,” Lewis George continued. “So I am looking forward to working with agencies to improve both how we contract but the outcomes that they lead to.”

CFSA entered contracts with Edgewood Brookland Family Support Collaborative totalling more than $2.1 million for the provision of  community-based child welfare services. 

Meanwhile, DGS entered contracts with Superior Services & Associates, Inc. in Southwest for  janitorial services for the Metropolitan Police Department and Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Another contract allowed Maryland Elevator Services in Crofton, Maryland to repair and maintain elevators, escalators, wheelchair lifts and conveyances at District facilities. DGS also continued its arrangement with RSC Electrical & Mechanical Contractors, Inc. in Northeast for electrical work at the Department of Employment Services. 

Most of the contract modifications exceeded $1 million, which required council approval. 

Neither DGS nor CFSA responded to The Informer’s request for comment about why it didn’t submit contracts to the council for approval earlier. 

In 2015, Bowser established the Procurement Accountability Review Board (PARB), which reviews retroactive contracts, contract appeals and other phenomena that indicate disregard for laws and regulations. 

PARB, which includes the mayor, city administrator and chief procurement officer, also identifies conditions within an agency that hinder its ability to facilitate the procurement process.  While Bowser said she couldn’t speak directly to the retroactive DGS and CFSA contracts, she referred to PARB as a tool in maintaining fidelity to the Home Rule Act. 

Discussion about retroactive contracts continued on Friday, Feb. 10 when Mendelson conducted a Committee of the Whole roundtable with DC Public Schools (DCPS) officials. Those scheduled to testify included DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee, Deputy Chancellor Amy Maisterra, and LaVeta Hilton, DCPS’ deputy chief of contracts and acquisitions. 

Last June, DCPS signed a contract with food vendor Sodexo without council approval. The council didn’t receive the contract until the end of last year. DCPS reintroduced the Sodexo contract early in this council period. 

For years, students and parents have complained about the quality of the school lunches — at times describing the food offered at schools as significantly piecemeal and lackluster. Mendelson and D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) have reportedly gone as far as collecting photos of school lunches to prove this point. 

At a time when the D.C. Council hasn’t also gotten much cooperation from DCPS on meeting the deadlines for individual school budget submissions, Mendelson continues to raise concerns about District agencies’ ability to fulfill basic responsibilities. 

“If [agencies] can’t get us contracts on time, that suggests procurement office dysfunction,” Mendelson said. “ It means the contracting officer isn’t on top of what they’re doing. It means there could be a negative finding from the D.C. auditor. It means there’s some inefficiency and waste. It’s dysfunction, inefficiency  and suggests bigger problems.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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1 Comment

  1. Former DC government staffer here: contracting is a mess in the DC government and heavily skewed to friends of the mayor so it’s no wonder they’re trying to avoid review by the council. In my agency, nobody wanted to sign a contract because everyone knew they were tainted. If a friend of the mayor didn’t get a contract, they would complain to the mayor’s office and sometimes challenge the contract. The people who knew better went through the most convoluted processes to make sure they were safe. More than a few times people said to me “you don’t want to be walked out of here in handcuffs” in reference to contracts. It makes it really hard to get meaningful work done.

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