A recent report raises questions about the conduct of the District’s city administrator Allen Y. Lew during the time when he directed the DCPS facilities modernization plan. Results from the audit, conducted by city auditor Deborah K. Nichols, is turning out to be an eye-opener, as it questions some of the management practices of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM) when Lew served as executive director.

The upshot of these managerial lapses, according to the audit, was the misallocation of millions of dollars earmarked for school renovation projects in the fiscal period extending from Oct. 1, 2007 through Sept. 30, 2009.

Several council members said they have not reviewed the report, citing more pressing issues such as the hearing on the mayor’s alleged involvement in a payola scheme, the attorney general’s investigation of Councilman Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and redistricting. However, at least one said he understood the urgency of following through on the report. “I read the report in amazement,” said Councilman Marion S. Barry (D-Ward 8) “The problem we have right now is there is so much going on at one time. It seems that Black council members are under attack. Instead of focusing on running the District, it seems our leadership is running for their lives.”

The report cited millions in unaccounted vendor payments. “There was no reconciliation or written explanation for the $31 million discrepancy between payments OPEFM reported and … files maintained by school system officials,” the report stated. It continued to note that project managers attributed much of the problem to staff turnover. This meant that the same project manager did not manage a project from start to finish. As a result, project files often contained an incomplete record of vendor pay requests.

Nichols stated in the opening paragraph of the report:

OPEFM established a procurement contract record management system that did not facilitate a review of school-and project-specific expenditures for capital improvements, maintenance, repairs, and operating costs.
Contract and procurement files did not consistently contain sufficient information to constitute a complete history of contract and procurement transactions.
OPEFM issued payments without a valid contract and assigned managerial functions to a contractor.
The agency’s poorly designed contract and procurement records management systems were badly designed and thus stymied the review of expenditures; vendor payment records were “inaccurate and incomplete.”
A change order for work being done by Turner Construction wase drafted by a consultant from the law firm of Leftwich and Ludaway related by marriage to “Turner’s project executive manager assigned to OPEFM capital projects,” thus creating the impression of conflict of interest.
OPEFM paid $1.3 million for renting and renovating office space instead of using space set aside by the District government, and paid $12.5 million for project management services with no “written documentation of issues and recommendations.”

“I will definitely ask the chairman to request a thorough investigation into these findings. This is very serious,” said Barry, who served four terms as mayor. “Don’t forget, now Lew is the city administrator. We don’t want these practices to continue on a wider scale.”

David Meadows, public information officer for Councilman Michael Brown, agreed. “The Council’s Committee of the Whole has oversight of this matter. I’m sure now that the Councilmember is aware he will be interested.”

Recommendations from the audit include:

-Taking necessary steps to ensure that the record keeping system is reorganized so that contract and procurement files, including records of expenditures, are organized specifically by school and project, as well as by contractor.

– Establishing effective controls over the creation of school and project specific records by contractors to ensure that adequate, complete, and proper records are made, collected, and properly preserved.

-Monitoring the project management contract with DCPEP to ensure that vendor pay request information contained in PM project files is complete, accurate, and reconciled.

– OPEFM’s executive director establishing a written record that documents communications with the state superintendent of education and the DCPS chancellor regarding the school construction and modernization to ensure effective coordination throughout the school modernization process.

-Ensuring that each contract and procurement file contains a complete history of each transaction.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO