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During a legislative meeting yesterday, the D.C. Council blocked additional payments of at least $2 million to the contractors who managed the renovations at Anacostia Senior High School after several councilmembers questioned why the extra costs were needed. Councilmembers also said they needed to find out more about the joint venture that was supposed to manage the project.

LL’s cover story of a few weeks ago about the city’s flawed Certified Business Enterprise contracting system focused on problems at Anacostia, where the majority partner in the joint venture says he was essentially used as a front by a Maryland-based company. EEC of D.C., the CBE-certified majority partner, and Forrester Construction, the much larger Rockville-based construction firm that appears to have done almost all of the work at Anacostia, are currently suing each other in D.C. Superior Court and federal court in Maryland.

Department of General Services Director Brian Hanlon, who oversees school construction projects, told LL a few weeks ago that the joint venture between the two companies had been dissolved. Yet the contract the council rejected, which covered additional work, or “change orders” from the original contract, listed both EEC of D.C. and Forrester as the prime contractors. Says Hanlon: “The change order was prepared some time ago and regardless of the disposition of that JV, subcontractors still need to get paid for work fairly done.”

Councilmember Vincent Orange, who oversees the department that administers the CBE program, says he’s met with the inspector general and the city auditor to discuss what happened at Anacostia. Orange says no payments should be made until the council has a clear idea of what happened between Forrester and EEC of D.C. and says he’ll be holding a hearing on the subject later this month.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who pulled the mayor’s request for the additional payments to the EEC of D.C./Forrester joint venture, asked Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser to hold a hearing about DGS’s request for the extra money and why some of the change order items weren’t included in the original contract.

And At-Large Councilmember David Catania worried that the council hadn’t been keeping close enough tabs on the hundreds of millions the city spends each year on school construction, specifically on change orders that increase the price of the project once it’s started. He suggested the city put aside money in the next budget for an audit of school construction spending.

Catania is certainly right that the council has taken a near-complete hands-off approach to overseeing school construction spending—first when City Administrator Allen Lew oversaw the spending, as well as in this last year since DGS took over that role. Whether yesterday’s bluster on the dais amounts to any real oversight is something to watch for.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery