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With so many millions of dollars walking out the door in Jimmy Choos, etc., courtesy of the tax scandal, you’d figure D.C. Gov would be totally into recovering millions of other dollars it’s rightfully owed by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
You’d figure that. But you’d be wrong. In a classic case of buck-passing between the Office of Property Management (OPM) and the Department of Corrections (DOC), the utility bill for steam used to heat the Correctional Treatment Facility—located right next to the D.C. Jail and privately operated by the Nashville-based CCA—has gone unpaid for years. What’s owed is up for negotiation. Last March, former OPM director Lars Etzkorn (who has since lost his job over that unfortunate police department relocation fiasco) testified before the Council that OPM was “collecting monies owed.” To wit: “For example, last month OPM presented to the Department of Corrections the analysis for it to recover $5.7 million from the Corrections Corporation of America…”
OPM didn’t take over collecting the money, mind you, it presented an analysis of how to collect the money. And this was after At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson figured out in the 2006 budget process that DOC was actually being billed for the steam rather than being paid for it. A year after OPM was informed of that, a year after Etzkorn’s testimony throwing around “$5.7 million,” none of the money has been collected. And $5.7 million could be way underselling it.
To be fair to the CCA, the folks in Nashville didn’t know how much steam they were using in D.C. until OPM installed a meter last March; a bill didn’t even go out until a few months later, in June. According to the bill, the meter shows that in six months—from June to December of 2007—the Correctional Treatment Facility used more than $450,000 in steam. When you do the math, and take into account that the CCA, according to its lease, has been responsible for paying utilities on the facility since 1997…. well that’s somewhere around $10 million to $11 million in danger of—poof!—evaporating.
The DOC, by nature of its relationship with the the jail, the next-door Correctional Treatment Facility, and the CCA, has been the agency ostensibly in charge of the lease with the CCA. But—and you’ll have to try and follow this alphabet soup—the DOC thinks it’s the OPM’s job to get the CCA on board. Beverly Young, spokesperson for DOC, e-mailed that succinct response to me this week: “The Department of Corrections is not responsible for the collections. The matter is ultimately an issue between OPM and CCA.”
Mendelson agrees. The DOC, he says, never should have been in charge of the lease in the first place. “The only agency that should administer a lease is OPM,” he says, and further: “They (OPM) screwed around last year with invoicing and not getting payment….They’re very slow to act and wer’e talking about millions of public dollars.”
At a hearing last Friday, OPM’s interim director Robin-Eve Jasper (after being jousted by Vincent Gray) faced Mendelson on this front:
Mendo: “We should get answers without having to think of every angle to ask the question. So I get the bills, but it turns out we’re not getting the pyament…”
Jasper: “I’m going to have to get back to you. We are billing currently, but the first bill didn’t go out that long ago…and I don’t believe it was as high as $11 million….I will get back to you with a detailed response.”
Mendo: “What I was last told at our last hearing on this was that the Office of Property Management was talking to the Department of Corrections. I’m not sure why that makes sense. Why doesn’t the OPM talk to CCA or to the CFO’s office?”
Jasper: “I can’t answer that question…I can’t answer why we were in discussion with the DOC rather than sending out a demand note and just proceeding on that basis.”
Mendo: “When you get back to me, can you also go into what was going on prior to June 2007?”
Jasper: “Yes, I believe we’re trying to establish a baseline of a full year at this point and…establish prior payments.”
Mendo: “I’ve yet to receive any evidence that anyone has talked to CCA, so this would all be a surprise to them when we send them a bill. That would kind of help, I think, to talk to them.”
Hey, it’s a start.
OPM’s spokesman, Bill Rice, did not return three phone calls. Stay tuned!