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Four years ago: A contracts scandal and a similiar cast of characters

Mayor Anthony Williams.jpgIn 2005, the District of Columbia government was rocked by a procurement scandal. The Washington Post ran a series outlining vast abuses of the District's contracting processes. The Post found the city had spent over $425 million in 2004 through unauthorized backdoor deals and improper no-bid contracts.

The specifics of the 2005 scandal were a bit different than the current Parks and Recreation spending hubbub. However, there are a few disturbing parallels. On Friday, the Fenty administration sent City Administrator Neil Albert and District CFO Natwar Gandhi to testify before the Council. The Council also heard from some of the contractors involved. The picture that was painted was not a pretty one. The Fenty administration essentially relied on arguing that the ends justified the means. The claim is that things got done more efficiently through bypassing the Council and the normal DPR procurement process and handing money to preferred groups without transparency.

Four years ago, Gandhi was District CFO and was making similar arguments. Gandhi told the Washington Post that if he did everything by the book, a lot of work would not get done. The self-described bean counter said "I will be damned if a child is without textbooks or an AIDS patient is without medicine just because some bureaucrat did not file the paperwork right."

In 2005, the District's financial situation was vastly different. Overspending was often ignored, as the city ran record surpluses. Agencies could offer no-contract payments to preferred vendors without drawing scrutiny, and the use of no-bid contracts had proliferated. Back then, as now, lack of competition and transparency resulted in waste. It also resulted in political strife.

Also just like now, the scandal in 2005 arrived as an election year approached. The big players in the 2006 mayoral election all spoke of their outrage, and demanded investigations. Council Chairperson Linda Cropp (D), Kwame Brown (D-At Large), David Catania (I-At Large) and Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) all promised to hold hearings and get to the bottom of the allegations. Gandhi promised more transparency and better methods of tracking funding. The Williams administration assured the public, and the Council that the problems would be resolved, and were not indicative of any ongoing trouble.

In 2009, we again have a procurement mess. The Fenty administration is claiming that they had to get creative with spending in order to get things done. They claim that DPR could not get the work done efficiently enough, so they went through DCHA. We'll ignore for now the fact that DPR is under the purview of the Mayor, and thus any problems there are also Fenty's responsibility. The D.C. Council is again outraged, holding hearings and demanding investigation and oversight. And again we have Natwar Gandhi overseeing the whole mess.

So what did then-Councilmember Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) have to say about the contracts scandal in 2005? He called the regulatory violations "completely intolerable," and said "the people involved need to be fired."

Photo of Anthony Williams by Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press

by Dave Stroup, filed under City Hall at 7:00AM


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District Daily is a Washington, D.C. news site. It is published by Dave Stroup, a writer who lives and works in the District of Columbia. His work can also be found at Greater Greater Washington, Brightest Young Things and Why I Hate DC.
Jamie said:

Awesome.

You reminded me of something along these lines I wrote in the spring and never posted. I just put it on my blog.

November 10, 2009 12:45 PM
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