City agency to reassess guard pact

March 23, 1995|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

Under pressure from federal housing officials, the Baltimore Housing Authority will reassess the awarding of a controversial $4.6 million contract for security at local housing projects that went last year to the highest bidder, the Nation of Islam Security Agency.

This month, the contract to NOI Security came under sharp criticism from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which described the decision as "arbitrary" and said the agency had violated federal rules.

Although Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III disputes that finding, he told HUD in a letter March 15 that he will "re-rank" the proposals for the work, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Sun. In the letter, Mr. Henson emphasized that he was not "admitting or denying anything."

HUD has given Baltimore three options: refund the $1 million they say was overspent on the contract, give the contract to runner-up Wells Fargo Guard Services, or scrap the NOI contract and reopen bidding.

"We absolutely think HUD does not understand its own competitive procurement rules," Mr. Henson said in an interview yesterday.

He said he has requested a meeting with HUD lawyers to ask for advice and to determine how much latitude the Housing Authority has in reconsidering the contract. No date has been set.

HUD is reviewing Mr. Henson's letter and will respond within 10 days, said HUD spokesman Michael Zerega.

But a lawyer for Wells Fargo criticized HUD for giving city housing officials a "menu of options."

"We fear that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City may wish to manipulate the [process] in a fictitious and self-serving manner to leave NOI in place," said Laurence Marder. "If such an approach was sanctioned by HUD, it would mark the end of any semblance of a competitive process."

NOI was selected last May over 10 other companies to provide security at 16 publicly owned high-rise apartment buildings in Baltimore -- even though it was the highest bidder. The low bidder, Wells Fargo, offered to do the job for $3.5 million -- about $1.1 million less.

NOI Security is associated with the Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan. NOI affiliates have received high marks from officials in cities around the nation for lowering violent crime rates in public housing projects. Baltimore housing officials say that serious crime dropped 50 percent at one high-rise alone here.

Eleven firms submitted bids, and NOI Security was selected from four finalists. Wells Fargo's bid was the lowest at $3.5 million; the two other finalists bid $4.1 million.

The prices reflect the differences in hourly rates the firms charge for security officers: $11 for NOI Security; $8.23 for Wells Fargo; and $9.76 and $9.68 for two other finalists.

NOI's one-year contract went into effect in January, and the Housing Authority has the option to renew it through 1997, Mr. Henson said.

HUD reviewed the NOI Security contract after complaints by Wells Fargo, which last year sued the Housing Authority. The suit, pending in Baltimore Circuit Court, accuses the authority of violating federal procurement rules, which try to ensure that public contracts go to companies with the highest qualifications and lowest prices.

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