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The renovation job to some of the ramps, overpasses, and sidewalks on the east end of the John Philip Sousa bridge over the Anacostia River was not meant to be epic.
But it is necessary—and urgent—according to community members.
“At one point you actually had concrete falling from it [the bridges over Nicholson St. SE],” says Graylin W. Presbury, president of the Fairlawn Citizens Association. “The city resolved that by putting wood underneath, but the birds nest in it and there’ll be an inch to half-inch of poop on the sidewalks below.”
Presbury added that it can be a hazard when kids head to the nearby playground area in Anacostia Park. “They have to walk over this stuff or walk out into the street to avoid it,” says Presbury. “The poop will accumulate, especially in the summer months when the birds return.”
Built in 1963, both the north- and southbound ramps from Pennsylvania Avenue SE to the Anacostia Freeway (DC-295) are considered “structurally deficient” by the District Department of Transportation.
The so-called Anacostia Bridges renovation project, managed by DDOT, was awarded to a company called Technopref Industries, who ultimately won the job with a $10.7 million bid. The second-place bidder, whose offer came in about $140,000 higher than Technopref’s, was Fort Myer Construction.
And that, seemingly, is when the problems began. As the second-place bidder, Fort Myer had the right to file a protest with the city’s Contract Appeals Board over their loss, which they did in July. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine entered a motion to dismiss the protest in August. Fort Myer registered its opposition to Racine’s motion, and in October, the Contract Appeals Board sided with the District and dismissed the protest.
By November, Fort Myer sued the Contract Appeals Board in D.C. Superior Court, a move that effectively halted the work, which DDOT had previously announced would begin Feb. 20. The next hearing in the court case is set for June 1.
“Among the thousands of jobs we bid, we only exercise our legal rights when we feel there is a serious and inequitable matter that should be reviewed—just like any other bidder,” says A. Scott Bolden, managing partner of Reed Smith LLP, a law firm that represents Fort Myer.
In their initial protest, Fort Myer contended that there was a mistake in the solicitation materials from DDOT and that Technopref submitted an unbalanced, or unrealistic, estimate within their winning bid. If both issues were corrected, Fort Myer calculated that their bid would be the lowest.
The Contract Appeals Board dismissed Fort Myer’s protest on a pair of technical grounds that they claim made the protest both premature and too late, according to the sometimes mind-boggling rules that govern the District’s bid protest process. The D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement officially awarded the job to Technopref in December.
The D.C. attorney general’s office declined to comment because the case is under litigation, and repeated attempts by City Paper to contact Technopref, the U.S. arm of a construction company with headquarters in Canada and France, through their U.S. legal counsel were not successful.
If you think you’ve heard of Fort Myer, you probably have—by way of their signage on numerous city infrastructure projects going back three decades in the District.
Fort Myer has billed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars of work to the District in the past five years according to project listings on its own website. And that number could be much higher when factoring in their regular paving and sidewalk repair contracts, snow removal services, and all the subcontracting work they land.
Their District clients include DDOT, the Department of General Services, DC Water, Pepco, and Washington Gas. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has dubbed Fort Myer a “favored” D.C. contractor.
Fort Myer was also at the center of a 2016 D.C. Department of General Services contracting dispute that coincided with the resignation of its then-Director Christopher Weaver, who testified at D.C. Council oversight hearings that, at the behest of the City Administrator Rashad Young, he was asked to fire two employees involved in the contract award process. Weaver refused, then resigned.
The two infrastructure projects at the heart of the 2016 DGS affair were related to the new D.C. United soccer stadium and another job around the site of the forthcoming sports and entertainment facility at the St. Elizabeths East Campus.
Like the Anacostia Bridges project, Fort Myer was the second-place bidder on both of those jobs. That is not to say they didn’t profit off coming in second.
According to an extensive report on the DGS matter published in 2017 by Cheh, a former special assistant U.S. Attorney and current law professor at the George Washington University, officials in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration made numerous efforts to advantage Fort Myer, a Bowser campaign contributor, during and shortly after the bidding process for the DGS projects.
“An unsubstantiated report was issued by an individual politician that did not have the support of the very committee that reviewed it,” says Bolden, about the Cheh report.
In one case detailed in the Cheh report, Fort Myer made a so-called best and final offer (BAFO) for the St. Elizabeths project that was significantly different in allocation amounts from the firm’s original bid and appeared unbalanced, something DGS staff described as “suspicious.”
“Adm. Weaver testified that he was deeply alarmed by Fort Myer’s BAFO submission and the likelihood that someone at DGS had leaked confidential information to Fort Myer,” says Cheh in the report.
Ironically, one of Fort Myer’s arguments against Technopref in their legal case over the Anacostia Bridges project is an unbalanced bid.
“It is our opinion that the matter of an unbalanced bid (nominal prices for one item, overstated prices for other(s), which do not result in the lowest overall cost to DDOT) jeopardizes the integrity of the bidding process,” Bolden writes to City Paper. “We feel it is in the best interest of the taxpayers and the business community to raise attention to unbalanced bids, to avoid tarnishing the fair competitive bidding process.”
Bolden further claims that, “…prior to Fort Myer filing its [Anacostia Bridges] protest, DDOT had no language in their invitation for bids on projects regarding unbalanced bidding.” Recent DDOT bid solicitations do contain a regulation prohibiting unbalanced bids, but DDOT would not confirm if Fort Myer was the reason for the change.
In the DGS matter, Cheh wrote in her report that Young “agreed to ‘look into’” expeditiously settling other Fort Myer lawsuits against the District in an attempt to “discourage Fort Myer from filing a protest.”
“The City Administrator accelerated those [settlement] discussions and the Executive ultimately funded $4 million in settlements to Fort Myer,” says Cheh, in the report.
Also included in the report was quoted correspondence from Lewis F. Shrensky, a vice president at Fort Myer, to former DGS Director Weaver from May 2016 regarding their decision not to protest the DGS contracts in question. “The District government is the largest and oldest client of Fort Myer,” wrote Shrensky in his testimony to Cheh’s committee. “Because of its long business relationship with the District, Fort Myer saw no reason to unduly burden the District government protesting a procurement that, while desirable, was not vital to its financial health.”
Together, the winning bids for the 2016 DGS projects were worth about $35 million, more than three times as much as Fort Myer’s losing bid on the Anacostia Bridges project, the one over which they’re now suing the District.