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The Department of General Services pays the equivalent of $86,000 a year for someone to do data entry. The rate of pay for “Document Control Technician” comes out to $115,000 a year. And the services of one administrative assistant costs DGS $191,000 a year.
Created in 2011 to manage much of the District’s public construction projects, DGS relies heavily on outside firms to do procurement, legal, and construction management work. The two big construction management contractors are McKissack & McKissack and Brailsford & Dunlavey (where DGS Director Brian Hanlon used to work). The outsourcing setup comes courtesy of City Administrator Allen Lew, who used the same private contractors when he oversaw large construction projects, like the baseball stadium and a massive school renovation.
Lew has said that the use of these private firms has been vital to the success of past public construction work and that he saw little difference between members of his team who were on city employees and those were worked for private companies. Be that as it may, there are some obvious differences.
Price is one. Construction project managers who work at DGS generally make around $75,000 to $100,000 a year. DGS is paying McKissack and Brailsford more than $250,000 a year for the same job title. DGS also pays $366,000 a year for the services of the big bosses at the private companies who oversee DGS construction. The $191,000 the city pays private contractors for an administrative assistant mirrors Council Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s annual salary.
Private contractors have to include benefits, overhead, and profit in the rate they charge, and DGS spokesman Kenneth Diggs says the extra cost of outsourcing construction management “allows the District to achieve its goals in the most efficient means possible.” Taxpayers benefit from the setup because the private contractors are more flexible, are “consistently developing and refining ‘best practices,'” and recruiting from a larger “talent pool,” Diggs says. He also notes that the rates DGS is paying are within industry standards.
There’s another key difference besides price: private workers can split their time with non-District related projects, while city employees can’t. Besides managing construction for DGS, Will Mangrum, a vice president at Brailford & Dunlavey, works on school construction projects in other jurisdictions. A quick Google search found that Mangrum is involved in projects in Alexandria, Va., and DeKalb County, Ga. But Mangrum is also listed as working full time on DGS projects on the invoices submitted by Brailsford (his monthly fee is more than $30,000). Project managers who are also listed on invoices as working full time on DGS projects also show up as project managers on projects outside of the District. Mangrum didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Diggs says the private contractors who are paid for full-time work “are obliged to deliver a 40-hour week” to DGS projects in addition to whatever time they spend on non-DGS projects. Diggs adds that the results speak for themselves.
“Across the portfolio, their work has elevated the quality of life of our city’s residents,” Diggs says of McKissack and Brailsford’s work.
The city has indeed built plenty of impressive-looking schools and parks using outsourced construction management. But there are still plenty of wrinkles in DGS’ privatized approach. As LL’s noted before, the set up lends itself to all sorts of conflict of interest issues, as McKissack and Brailsford judge bids for city projects from construction firms that they are partners with on private projects. LL’s reported on several problems at Anacostia Senior High School, where the majority partner of the joint venture team that was supposed to be the general contractor on the project says he did virtually no work. And Hanlon says DGS’s “standards” weren’t met when a politically connected contractor won a drywall contract, allegedly without doing any drywall work. One has to wonder how those problems weren’t spotted earlier considering that at one point, DGS was paying Brailsford $43,000 a month for two project managers to oversee Anacostia.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery