Audits assail city public works

Reports criticize agency for contracts to companies not part of approved list

May 20, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's public works department has come under fire for awarding consulting contracts to two businesses that were not on a government approved list of consultants -- a move that could jeopardize funding for two city projects.

Auditors from the city comptroller's office criticized the Department of Public Works in two of three audit reports released yesterday for granting contracts to two consulting firms -- Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson; and Gannett Fleming Inc.

The companies were hired for two road repair projects worth $1.1 million each. The Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson firm was hired as a consultant on a project to repair the Russell Street viaduct over Monroe Street in Southwest Baltimore, and Gannett Fleming as a consultant for repairs to the Monroe Street viaduct over the CSX railroad tracks in West Baltimore.

Neither project has begun.

Reports forwarded

Auditor Yovonda D. Brooks said the audit reports have been sent to the state and federal highway administrations.

David Lamantia, another city auditor who helped with the review, said the city will need a waiver to continue using the contractors hired for the public works projects or risk losing funds.

George G. Balog, public works director, defended the contract awards, saying the two companies were added to the list of consultants as a way to give more businesses an opportunity to receive city work.

"The Bureau of Transportation kept sending the same consultants for seven projects," Balog said in response to the audit report, which was presented yesterday during the Board of Estimates meeting.

Balog said no favoritism was shown the businesses.

Guidelines not followed

Under federal guidelines, public works should have used contractors from a specific list. Public works improperly added Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson and Gannett Fleming to the list, then awarded the companies the contracts, according to the audit.

The public works audits also noted that the department failed to provide a detailed estimate of the cost for each of the projects before choosing a consultant, as federal guidelines require.

"If I was a bidder on that [approved] list, I certainly wouldn't be happy knowing my name was overlooked," said Michael Henderson, executive director for Associated Builders and Contractors, an organization of Baltimore area companies. "It raises a lot of questions about the process."

Public works officials said in a letter to the auditors that they would ensure that federal guidelines are followed in the future.

Agencies get financial review

In addition to the review of the two consulting contracts, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt issued an audit of all city agencies' financial records. The audit's most significant criticism was of the city Health Department for failing to track the financial dealings of its Healthy Start Initiative.

Healthy Start, a prenatal support program for poor women, is a $3.2 million operation, paid for with federal money. The comptroller's office said the Health Department did not ensure that the Healthy Start program had annual audits conducted on its financial operations over the past two years, raising questions about how $6.4 million in federal money was spent.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, city health commissioner, said yesterday the Health Start program did not have audits for three years and is being investigated for alleged misspending in the past. But he said, new personnel lead the operation and a new accounting system is in place.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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