The practice of increasing the quantity and overall price of some contracts without competitive bids – which came under fire last week and was described at length by The Brew – will be reviewed by the Board of Estimates, the board’s president promised today.
“We are going to look at these awards and tighten them up,” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced at today’s meeting. Young, who is president of the spending board, said he was concerned that proper checks may not be in place for “requirements contracts” that can be extended at a fixed unit price.
One such contract – for office supplies for city agencies – has soared from $1.4 million to $8 million through various renewals and quantity increases.
At the same time, Young and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today approved an increase for another requirements contract.
An additional $600,000 for the supply of toners and inkjet cartridges between now and October 10 was awarded to Rudolph’s Office & Computer Supply – the same company that last week saw its office supply contract balloon to $8 million.
Another contract involved the retroactive approval of work completed by Location Age LLC, which supplies personnel to city agencies to map geographic information. The original contract was increased by $600,000 today, partly to cover work performed by the company without prior approval by the board.
Business as Usual?
Arnold Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, challenged the expenditures, saying both were a violation of the city charter requiring competitive bids for contracts over $50,000.
“If we are allowing contractors to get additional funds before their contracts expire, that is wrong,” Jolivet told the board.
After the meeting, Jolivet expressed skepticism that the board would fundamentally change the procedures for requirements contracts. “Jack [Young] means well and would like to clean it up, but the mayor needs to say what Jack said today, ” Jolivet said.
“Without a commitment from the mayor, it will remain business as usual.”
Jolivet was referring to the mayor’s majority of three votes on the board by virtue of her vote and the votes of her two appointees, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Alfred Foxx.
Rawlings-Blake, who sits next to Young on the board, did not enter into a discussion today over requirements contracts or address Young’s concerns.
Pratt Votes “No”
The mayor and her appointees voted for the contract increases, as did Young with the caveat that the practice will be reviewed. City Comptroller Joan Pratt voted “no” for both awards, saying she was opposed to open-ended contracts.
Pratt urged the purchasing department to get a better idea of the quantity of items needed before soliciting bids under a requirements contract. She criticized the practice of setting low numbers when the contract is initially bid and then coming back to the board for approval of more items.
Rudolph’s was the low bidder for a $900,000 toner and cartridge contract on October 5, 2011. Because of increased demand for cartridges and toners, the Bureau of Purchases asked for a $600,000 increase in funds between now and October 10, 2013.
Timothy M. Krus, chief purchasing agent, emphasized in an interview with The Brew that the Rudolph’s contract was “locked in” at the original unit price and the process by which agencies can order cartridges is “a very tightly controlled system.”
He said, however, he had no idea how many cartridges could be purchased with $600,000, or exactly what agencies needed more cartridges and why. He said he assumed the increase was the result of the city’s increased dependence on computers and the need for color ink and other more expensive computer printing equipment.
Location Age LLC is a Washington, D.C.-based technology company that has been supplying staff to the city since 2007 to help departments “map” their physical assets.
While it was originally hoped that city personnel could handle these services, “this is still a work in progress,” Krus told the board, and outside personnel will be needed to “maintain the continuity of services” when the Location Age contract expires.