Opening Remarks: Hearing on the District of Columbia Public Schools Procurement Authority Amendment Act of 2023
Councilmember Nadeau made the following opening remarks at the start of the Committee on Public Works & Operations hearing on B25-0069, the District of Columbia Public Schools Procurement Authority Amendment Act of 2023, which would revoke DCPS' contracting authority. Councilmember Nadeau is the chair of the committee and co-introduced the legislation with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Read the press release.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to discuss B25-0069, the District of Columbia Public Schools Procurement Authority Amendment Act of 2023. This Amendment takes away the independent procurement authority DCPS has under the law and will shift it to the Office of Contracting and Procurement.
I introduced this bill with Chairman Mendelson in response to uncovering a routine failure by DCPS to submit contracts over $1 million to the Council for review. Soon it became clear that this was not one or two or three contracts that did not come to the Council for review.
DCPS unlawfully awarded a total of 36 contracts that were entered into without Council approval, one of them even dating back to 2019.
The total value of all of these contracts is in excess of $269 million. That’s over a quarter of a billion dollars spent by DCPS without the Council authorization required under the Home Rule Act.
Simply put, this is a blatant and systemic disregard for basic procedures, the law, and the role of the Council, which is entitled and required by law to review these contracts.
Who does this hurt?
It hurts students who receive services through these contracts for school lunches, behavioral health services, and special education instruction for students with learning disabilities.
It hurts teachers, who rely on technology platforms to teach and execute their curriculum.
It affects the employees of vendors who need to be paid for rendering services to the District. Vendors need to pay their employees too.
When the Council can’t review – or doesn't even know about – big contracts that serve the school community, we can’t do our due-diligence. Who is getting these contracts? Are they qualified to do the work? Is the cost of the services or goods fair? Did they provide quality services the last time DCPS contracted with them?
We. Don’t. Know.
This also directly impacts D.C. taxpayers, who have no way of knowing if their $269 million dollars is being spent well. They trust there is a system in place, where agencies and the Council will follow the rules. If DCPS does not follow the rules and faces no consequences, why should other agencies follow the law? Why does the law exist then?
As the Chairman has previously stated, we have no reason to believe there’s anything amiss with the contracts. But we also have no reason to believe there isn’t. How would we know?
I think that DCPS has shown that it cannot be trusted with the responsibility of procurement authority.
And so this bill takes away the independent procurement authority DCPS has under the law and will shift it to the Office of Contracting and Procurement.
I hope to use our time today to get to the bottom of what's going on, whether that be confusion among the agency’s upper management about procurement procedure, or simply a blatant disregard of that procedure. Stay tuned.
Today, as we discuss this bill, we’re going to get into topics such as the weaknesses in the DCPS procurement process, the retroactive contracts which were submitted several months late, personnel changes at the agency and a run-through of the internal review process. We will also discuss with OCP what they would need to successfully take on procurement for DCPS.
I look forward to hearing from our public and government witnesses today on the procurement issues we are seeing at DCPS and getting a better understanding of whether this bill makes sense as the next step for addressing those issues.