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At last night’s State of the District speech, Mayor Vince Gray announced he’s going to increase government accountability by tackling a “long-standing challenge” in city government: “The way the District purchases goods and services.”

“No one likes the status quo,” says Gray, “not the businesses and nonprofits who must navigate our current system’s byzantine rules and requirements, not the government employees who live in fear of accidentally creating an opening for a losing company to file an otherwise meritless protest, nor the residents who experience sometimes absurd delays in projects from which they would benefit.  This must end.”

Gray did not offer any specifics in last night’s speech about what he has in mind. His spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, says the mayor will present a detailed procurement reform plan “over the coming days and weeks.”

Since reporting on problems with city contracting is a large part of LL’s job, it’s probably in LL’s best interest that the status quo survives. Nevertheless, here’s an idea the mayor can have for free: start putting more contract information on the Internet, starting with subcontracts.

The District does a reasonable decent job of posting information about prime contractors online, but doesn’t post information about subcontracts.

This is dumb, as anyone familiar with contracting shenanigans can tell you that most of the waste, fraud, and abuse in city contracting is likely to be found at the subcontracting level. Shining some sunlight on these contracts would probably go a long way toward making city contracting more accountable.

LL’s focused some of his reporting on problems with subcontracts on school projects overseen by the Department of General Services (whose head of procurement was recently arrested after police say they found him drunk in a car outside DGS’ headquarters with an open bottle of cheap wine during the middle of the day).  To learn the names and amounts paid to subcontractors on DGS projects, LL first had to figure out what to ask for in multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, file said FOIA requests, and then wait weeks or even months for a response.

It would not be hard for DGS to post this information on its website for all to see, as it (or more precisely, the private contractor working for DGS) regularly collects data on how much the general contractors on city construction jobs are paying their subcontractors. If DGS wanted to go crazy for transparency and accountability, it could also post invoices and lightly redacted certified payroll sheets—which would show what companies are actually doing the labor, and where the tradesmen and laborers working on city projects live—submitted by prime contractors and subcontractors.

Currently, DGS’s website on school construction projects has minimal information on schools that are “undergoing the school modernization process in 2011.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery