Lawmakers spar over GW contract

GW found itself in the middle of a widely publicized conflict between two D.C. councilmembers this week over a contract the School of Public Health and Health Services has with the city.

D.C. councilmember Marion Barry, Ward 8, said last Thursday he would try to block the renewal of a contract between SPHHS and the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance, accusing councilmember David Catania, At Large, of circumventing the law to award it, according to local news reports.

Though it was reported that Barry would bring the issue before the council Tuesday, Barry withdrew the resolution that afternoon. Barry’s chief of staff, Joyce Clements-Smith, said Wednesday she would not discuss the issue, including Barry’s accusations against Catania and why Barry withdrew his disapproval resolution.

The contract Barry scrutinized is a project taken up by the SPHHS to assist the District in its efforts to improve the Medicaid program, University spokeswoman Candace Smith said. Catania, the chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Health, awarded the contract as a “sole-source” contract with the city, which means it is not open to a bidding process. Barry said last Thursday that the contract should have been opened to bidders, the Washington Examiner reported.

Benjamin Young, Catania’s spokesman, said Tuesday that because the SPHHS is the only organization in the city that can offer the services the contract warrants, the city was able to grant the school the contract. It has been renewed every year since 2006, when the SPHHS first began working with the D.C. government.

GW has assisted D.C. with improving its public health insurance programs through the contract, Smith said.

“The District government has been able to utilize the only school of public health in the city that has expertise in this field. We have been and continue to be happy to serve the District of Columbia,” Smith said.

Last year, Catania accepted a position as a professional lecturer in the SPHHS. He is not compensated for the position, The Hatchet reported in February 2009.

Young said Barry was “lashing out” at Catania because of the investigation into his own actions. In February, an ethics report said Barry had illegally benefited from a contract he awarded to his girlfriend, ultimately misusing thousands of dollars worth of city funds.

Department of Health Care Finance spokeswoman Lashon Beamon said Monday the GW contract has saved the city millions of dollars by helping streamline the department’s administrative process, which helps partner agencies like D.C. Public Schools and the city’s Department of Mental Health work with Medicaid.

“Millions of dollars are lost in not being able to bill Medicaid,” Beamon said. “For us it’s a no-brainer. The University and the program provided a number of cost-saving benefits to the District as a whole,” Beamon said.

Smith said Tuesday this year’s contract between the University and the city is designed to build on previous efforts, which will assist Beamon’s department to “ensure that the Medicaid program is in compliance with federal requirements; provides the high quality and accessible health services in the most cost-effective manner; and takes full advantage of the opportunities available under the newly enacted federal health reform law.”

Young said the contract has helped reduce D.C.’s uninsured rate from 14 to six percent.

“[Barry’s] lashing out because he’s upset about his own predicaments,” Young said. “The partnership [with GW] has done more for his residents in five years than he’s done in 40.”

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