DCHA director, chief auditor at odds as HUD deadline approaches
Meanwhile, time is working out for the company to answer dozens of findings issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Sept. 30, and it has till the top of the yr to make important progress in correcting them — or threat escalating the theirs. actions of the federal authorities.
Discussions have taken place behind closed doorways on how to answer the HUD report, which discovered that insufficient administration, poor oversight and mismanagement precipitated the authority to fail to supply “decent, safe and sanitary” housing for residents. his, opposite to federal necessities. . The board has cited a authorized exception for discussing misconduct investigations to strategize privately with senior workers.
The majority of the board serves at the pleasure of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who met with HUD officers final month to debate the report. She declined an interview request, however mentioned in a press release that her administration was centered on supporting DCHA.
Members of the D.C. Council’s housing committee, which has oversight of the authority, disagree on whether or not the authority’s present management can steer the company out of bother.
Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) mentioned the company wants a brand new director and new management on board. “Many times a week, we’re seeing high-level resignations, intra-agency disagreements, procurement issues,” White mentioned. “We can’t tease the edges and hopefully fix anything here.”
But committee chairwoman Anita Bonds (D-At Large) mentioned she has confidence within the company’s capability to deal with HUD’s response. “I remain hopeful about that [agency director Brenda Donald] can live up to its reputation as an organizational fixer in government.”
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The housing authority had been preparing for HUD’s report since late last year, when federal officials notified the agency of the upcoming review.
Behind her, Donald, who has led DCHA for about 17 months, repeated what he’s been telling the board all year: It inherited problems from the previous administration, it’s working to correct them, and it can’t fix everything internally. at night.
She declined to be interviewed for this story, but answered a few questions by email. It’s still unclear how she plans to lead DCHA in complying with HUD, or whether the authority will challenge any of HUD’s findings. The report highlighted dangerous conditions on properties that are one of the last lines of defense for District residents who can’t afford homes, including violence, lead paint hazards, out-of-code plumbing, water damage and mold.
The agency can dispute the report’s conclusions, but must then propose alternative actions, according to HUD’s correspondence with DCHA, which stated that all corrective actions must be completed within six months.
In 2020, DCHA’s then-top auditor, Joanne Wallington, instructed HUD that her workplace was below “an all-out assault” from agency leaders who she said engaged in gross mismanagement. “At this level, I’ve no confidence that the Board of Commissioners or different senior leaders will train integrity within the efficiency of their public duties,” Wallington, who later resigned, wrote to HUD, according to emails obtained by The Post.
Now, Petuna Cooper, who replaced Wallington, is alleging similar retaliation against her and her employees after the office recently released three internal audits deeply critical of agency procurement. HUD evaluators looked at about a dozen DCHA procurements and found systemic problems. The report said DCHA staff said they sometimes felt pressured by leadership to take actions that were inconsistent with policies and regulations.
Among the procurements HUD singled out for review was a $14.6 million contract for an energy conservation program with a company called ThinkBox. The contract had been on hold since last year pending an internal audit, which was released by Cooper’s office in August. The audit found that, due to a lack of oversight by DCHA, ThinkBox owed the agency more than $2 million in overbilled fees. ThinkBox co-founder Daron Coates denied the audit’s assertions in a statement first reported by the Washington City Paper, saying, “ThinkBox takes its contractual obligations critically and intends to vigorously defend itself and implement its rights.”
In September, Cooper’s office released another audit, which said John Xanthos Inc., along with its subsidiary C&A Electric, had been DCHA’s fire alarm contractors “since 2014 with none competitors from seen”.
The audit accused DCHA and Xanthos staff of bid rigging in the acquisition of generator and gas line installations by forcing the companies to work as subcontractors for C&A Electric instead of bidding on the work. The audit also accused DCHA of bid splitting by dividing work into purchase orders of less than $100,000 to circumvent federal competitive bidding requirements. John Xanthos did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In a response to the audit, DCHA management accepted the findings and agreed to terminate the agency’s relationship with John Xanthos Inc. But in an email to the board this month, Cooper said the audit’s submission to the board had been delayed because of “resistance from this administration.”
The relationship between Cooper and Donald further soured after a review requested by board member Bill Slover and released Nov. 1, according to emails obtained by The Post and first reported by Jeffrey Anderson of the District Dig website.
Cooper’s office found that the Donald administration improperly dealt with Virginia-based software company Verbosity, which provided “automated workforce deployment” to the agency’s police department, among other services. The audit accused Donald’s staff of using contingency contracts with Verbosity to cover illegal sole-source procurement by the company from the previous DCHA administration.
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In response to Cooper’s office’s review of Verbosity’s acquisitions, board chairwoman Dionne Bussey-Reeder sent Donald an email instructing him to appoint the agency’s general counsel, Lorry Bonds, and chief operating officer, Rachel Molly Joseph, “ on administrative leave pending. further investigation.”
Donald followed the instructions but days later revoked the permit, she said in an interview for a previous story, after the board received legal advice that Bussey-Reeder lacked the authority to issue the order. Bussey-Reeder did not respond to email inquiries from The Post.
Donald acknowledged that the previous administration handled the Verbosity acquisitions improperly, but denied that her administration had done anything wrong.
In an email this month to the board, also copied to HUD officials, she called the audit office’s review “incomplete and biased.” In the email, Donald complained that Cooper “unilaterally determined to show this audit over to the Board with out evaluate and steerage from me, her direct supervisor.” Donald said she would welcome further review “by a certified and goal social gathering”.
Cooper said in an email to the entire response that in decades of auditing, she had never been so disrespected. “The time is now for the Board to behave,” the auditor said. “Failure to do so will allow infidelity to reign in this agency. You now have audit reports showing malfeasance by senior management.”
Days later, Donald texted Cooper to cut him out of executive team meetings, which Cooper told the board in an email are fundamental to doing her job. The morale of my entire department is at an all time low due to the director’s actions. she wrote. “So once more, I’m calling on the Board to answer this newest episode of illegal retaliatory conduct by Executive Director Donald.”
Donald, in emails to The Post, mentioned Cooper’s claims of retaliation “are utterly unfounded.” Donald said she excluded Cooper from the meetings because she is now reporting “on to the Board” taking assignments from its members and “conversing with them frequently with out involving me,” which Donald said is inappropriate.
According to the Office of Audit and Compliance’s charter, which was approved by the board last year by a unanimous vote, its chief officer reports to the director and the board, and must “have unrestricted entry to, and talk and work together immediately with” The board.
Donald, requested by The Post if that reporting route had been modified, replied: “Yes, by the Board.”
When a reporter told Donald that public records show the board had taken no such action, she responded in an email: “I think this is part of the gaslighting that some board members have been involved in over the weeks. last. It would be great to have a supportive board focused on the critical work my team and I are doing.”
Bowser appoints, with confirmation by the DC Council, six of the 13 members to the DCHA board and selects the chairman. The commissioners also include the mayor’s vice mayor for planning and economic development — now her chief of staff John Falcicchio — giving Bowser’s picks majority control of the board and who he hires as a director.
Three board members are elected by residents; one is appointed by the KD Council; and two, including Slover, are elected by advocacy groups.
Slover, a long-time real estate development consultant, is the board’s longest-serving member. He said that from what he’s seen during recent meetings, the agency is preparing to be “minimally accountable” to HUD, rather than really reflecting on its own problems. He said DCHA needs “an total change in management.”
“It just isn’t solely the director. It’s the board. It’s all of them,” mentioned Slover.
The D.C. Council’s housing committee, which despite years of hearings has made limited progress on DCHA changes, is planning a roundtable for Nov. 30, the day HUD’s response is expected. Senior agency staff have been invited to provide “updates and clarifications” of their response to HUD.