School contracts under scrutiny


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

The state attorney general's criminal division is investigating procurement practices at the state Department of Education.

The investigation follows a February report by the state auditor that criticized the process of awarding nonbid management contracts to oversee construction projects.

The audit cited a pattern of inappropriate behavior and possible fraud in the department's Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

Earlier this year, Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto said she would forward the report to the attorney general's office and conduct an internal investigation.

In a Feb. 19 letter to the auditor, Hamamoto said the practices among the facilities branch, its employees and private contractors were “;disturbing.”;

Hamamoto said this month the department has completed its internal investigation but she was unable to talk about its disposition because of confidentiality laws governing personnel.

“;All I'm able to share with you is the investigation is completed and the department has taken appropriate follow-up action,”; she said.

Hamamoto said that after the audit, the department made changes and has become more diligent in applying “;checks and balances,”; including the way it picks people to decide on awarding contracts.

She said one of the changes included revoking the procurement authority of the Office of School Facilities for construction contracts and returning the authority to the Procurement and Contracts Branch.

Auditor Marion Higa urged looking into inappropriate discussions and meetings with contractors before public notices for project bids, giving them unfair advantages.

The audit also urged looking into inappropriate discussions with former department employees hired by contractors and manipulation of the selection committee process.

Higa suggested looking into four contracts, including a $300,000 award for construction management and professional services at Wilson and Anuenue elementary schools awarded April 23, 2006.