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Chairman Vincent Gray 
Opening statement on the Robert Bennett report on the Council contracts and grants investigation
February 16, 2010




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Gray Opening Statement on Report of the Council Contracts and Grants Investigation at the February 16th Regular Meeting of the Committee of the Whole

Councilmember Marion Barry, February 16, 2010

Robert Bennett, February 16, 2010

As you will recall, in July 2009, the council adopted the "Council Contracts and Grants Investigation Authorization Resolution of 2009," to authorize an investigation into whether personal services contracts awarded by the Council to Donna Watts-Brighthaupt were executed and administered in compliance with District law and council rules, policies, and procedures. The scope of the investigation authorized a thorough review of District laws and council rules, policies, and procedures governing the issuance of contracts by the council to independent contractors for the provision of services to individual members of the council and grants awarded to organizations by the council during the budget process — the practice known as “earmarks”; and the make recommendations for any necessary changes to District laws or council rules, policies, and procedures that would provide effective screening of these contracts and grants for possible conflicts of interest or other circumstances that would prohibit their award.

The council appointed Robert S. Bennett, a former federal prosecutor and currently a partner at Hogan & Hartson, as special counsel, and Amy R. Sabrin, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom, a deputy special counsel, to conduct the investigation on a pro bono basis. They were granted the authority to examine any personal service contract and any earmark awarded by the council, and had the authority to pursue the investigation wherever the evidence led.

From the outset, it was my intent and that of my colleagues that the report of Mr. Bennett be made public upon its completion. My colleagues and I have not seen or been briefed on the report’s findings or recommendations. We are releasing the Bennett report and releasing Mr. Bennett from the attorney-client privilege that otherwise might apply so that he can freely present his findings here today.

Even prior to the release of this report, the council has taken action to improve council procedures, rules and standards, including appointing our General Counsel as Ethics Counselor, and adopting an official code of ethical conduct and instituting mandatory ethics training for councilmembers and staff. In addition, the council discussed a number of changes that it will be making to the council rules on earmarks. In fiscal year 2009, the council, for the first time, required basic documentation to be submitted by grantees receiving earmarks. The council voted to strike all earmarks that were included in fiscal year 2010 to properly close the deficit the District was facing. Given the austere financial situation the District still faces, I will not be including any earmarks in the Committee of the Whole print of the Budget Request Act for fiscal year 2011. Nevertheless I believe it is important to institutionalize new earmark requirements in the council rules, so that future council may benefit from our experience. On March 2, 2010, I will propose the following changes to the council rules on earmarks, as well as other changes that may be recommended in the Bennett report.

  • I will move to strike the fiscal agent provision, which will require every organization to be a 501(c)(3) and meet the council's information submission requirements
  • I will require all organizations to submit a federal tax identification number to allow the Office of Tax and Revenue to readily identify whether an organization is in compliance with District taxes; and
  • I will clarify that the scope of work and grant budget submitted to the council is a draft and that an agency grant officer may require any changes or additional detail that is necessary to properly administer and oversee grant funds.

There may be other earmark amendments resulting from the Bennett report.

I will now call upon Mr. Bennett and Ms. Sabrin to present their report.

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