Loose Lips

Full Time Pay Without Full Attention

The Department of General Services pays the equivalent of $86,000 a year for someone to do data entry. The rate of pay for "Document Control Technician" comes out to $115,000 a year. And the services of one administrative assistant costs DGS $191,000 a year.

Created in 2011 to manage much of the District's public construction projects, DGS relies heavily on outside firms to do procurement, legal, and construction management work. The two big construction management contractors are McKissack & McKissack and Brailsford & Dunlavey (where DGS Director Brian Hanlon used to work). The outsourcing setup comes courtesy of City Administrator Allen Lew, who used the same private contractors when he oversaw large construction projects, like the baseball stadium and a massive school renovation.

Lew has said that the use of these private firms has been vital to the success of past public construction work and that he saw little difference between members of his team who were on city employees and those were worked for private companies. Be that as it may, there are some obvious differences.

Price is one. Construction project managers who work at DGS generally make around $75,000 to $100,000 a year. DGS is paying McKissack and Brailsford more than $250,000 a year for the same job title. DGS also pays $366,000 a year for the services of the big bosses at the private companies who oversee DGS construction. The $191,000 the city pays private contractors for an administrative assistant mirrors Council Chairman Phil Mendelson's annual salary.

Private contractors have to include benefits, overhead, and profit in the rate they charge, and DGS spokesman Kenneth Diggs says the extra cost of outsourcing construction management "allows the District to achieve its goals in the most efficient means possible." Taxpayers benefit from the setup because the private contractors are more flexible, are "consistently developing and refining 'best practices,'" and recruiting from a larger "talent pool," Diggs says. He also notes that the rates DGS is paying are within industry standards.

There's another key difference besides price: private workers can split their time with non-District related projects, while city employees can't. Besides managing construction for DGS, Will Mangrum, a vice president at Brailford & Dunlavey, works on school construction projects in other jurisdictions. A quick Google search found that Mangrum is involved in projects in Alexandria, Va., and DeKalb County, Ga. But Mangrum is also listed as working full time on DGS projects on the invoices submitted by Brailsford (his monthly fee is more than $30,000). Project managers who are also listed on invoices as working full time on DGS projects also show up as project managers on projects outside of the District. Mangrum didn't respond to a request for comment, but Diggs says the private contractors who are paid for full-time work "are obliged to deliver a 40-hour week" to DGS projects in addition to whatever time they spend on non-DGS projects. Diggs adds that the results speak for themselves.

"Across the portfolio, their work has elevated the quality of life of our city’s residents," Diggs says of McKissack and Brailsford's work.

The city has indeed built plenty of impressive-looking schools and parks using outsourced construction management. But there are still plenty of wrinkles in DGS' privatized approach. As LL's noted before, the set up lends itself to all sorts of conflict of interest issues, as McKissack and Brailsford judge bids for city projects from construction firms that they are partners with on private projects. LL's reported on several problems at Anacostia Senior High School, where the majority partner of the joint venture team that was supposed to be the general contractor on the project says he did virtually no work. And Hanlon says DGS's "standards" weren't met when a politically connected contractor won a drywall contract, allegedly without doing any drywall work. One has to wonder how those problems weren't spotted earlier considering that at one point, DGS was paying Brailsford $43,000 a month for two project managers to oversee Anacostia.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • LOL




  • name withheld

    It's not a comparison when you place the base salary of a government employee next to an invoice of a vendor. They are two numbers, but they don't reflect the same thing, so it's not a comparison, by definition. As the author grudgingly states, the private contractor's fee includes not just the hourly rate, but also the cost of their benefits, and overhead expenses the equipment and office real estate they use to do their job. There are various calculations but many business 'experts' calculate that salaries represent only 50% of the cost of an employee.

    Even if the salary of each private contractor were to be distilled out, it still wouldn't be a comparison because private sector workers work many more days than government workers (they don't usually get Inauguration Day and Washington's birthday off, for example), and unlike government employees, the private sector usually does not get paid for overtime work.

    And yes, it is completely normal for vendors in the construction industry to work on more than one job concurrently. Most jobs do not require the 24-7 attention of every team member from beginning to end of the project. Even the construction superintendent (foreman) can oversee multiple jobs, if the work is performed at different times of the day/week. That an employee works on multiple jobs does not necessarily mean that each client is being billed for work they are not getting. Design and construction is one of several industries like accounting and law that work on a 'billable hour' basis, whereby each employee accounts for each hour (and sometimes minute) of their day and which project they were working on. Each client gets billed for the time the employee spent on their project, not the time spent on someone else's.

    And yes, a person could work on jobs in more than one state. There are these things called airplanes, that allow project managers to visit their job sites frequently even when separated by hundreds of miles.

    Just because an author is ignorant of how another business industry works, doesn't mean there's some vast conspiracy. If the author *really* wanted to understand how the whole situation works, I bet the vendors would be happy to let him shadow a project manager or other worker for a day to understand their job. No one's job can be fully understood by just looking at a few pieces of paper.

  • RealDC

    @name withheld sounds like straight fool. Wow! We know where your "bread is buttered".

    A real, independent audit will exposed all of this crap and the back room deals that screw the city's residents over everyday. The audit cannot be done by the current IG, he is useless. NO CONFIDENCE!!

    Allen Lew operates on his on set of rules and the mayor and this council will not reign him in. DGS is out of control.

    You have an "administrative assistant" for a city contractor getting paid $191K a year???? LOL! REALLY?

    Wake up DC Council, Mayor Gray, this is disturbing.

  • Insider says…

    Thanks to the author for pulling the covers off this HUGE waste of money. The folks named, Mangrum especially, work 10-20 hours per week on these projects, and then bill 40 hours per week at rates 2-3X that of what the folks at DRES made to manage projects. Trust me when I say that you are not getting 8-12X value from Mangrum and his buddies.

    This practice, quite simply, should have been audited (and halted) years ago when Lew was still at OPEFM. Instead, Lew was allowed to do a hostile takeover of DRES, neuter the PMs there and heighten the waste of taxpayer money.

    Ironic to note, that the Director of DGS, Brian Hanlon worked at the aforementioned Brailsford and Dunlavey for 12 years! as noted above. No conflict there. Just cronies enriching cronies. Having seen how Lew and Hanlon work with Mangrum in his buddies, you can trust that the oversight is not, well, rigorous. I'm sure a few years down the road, Mr. Hanlon will be back at B&D having enriched his buddies and getting compensation in turn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AntLorenzo Anthony Lorenzo

    I'm still stuck on the Administrative Assistant getting paid $191k a year! Smh...

  • truth hurts

    Yo noodlez: Weigh in, my brother. Sounds fishy, and "faggie fenty" isn't running one city any more.

  • truth hurts

    Meant to say please weigh in. Sorry.

  • truth withheld

    DGS workers in the same positions as these contractors do not get paid overtime.
    DGS provides these workers, who claim they're working on other projects and are not "full time" an office space to work in. A leased space at 1250 U Street. The fees from the vendors include costs for "overhead"? Overhead is office space, benes, supplies, etc. The costs for office space is pure profit for them.

    Private sector workers may not get 2-3 holidays that DGS FTEs get, but DGS FTEs don't get golf outings, project bonuses, merit salary increases, etc that the private workers do.

    These private vendors are also selecting contractors to work on DC projects. They are not employees of the District and should not be committing DC money to any contractor, and they do on the regular.

  • TheContrarianOne

    Yes the comparison between public and private pay in this story is misleading. I am thankful for the above responders for pointing out what most journalist would otherwise make clear in their reporting.

  • The Poor

    Meanwhile, there are 1500 homeless families looking simply for a place to stay during the winter!

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  • Corrections

    Very interesting article- unfortunately these facts have been known for "quite" some time. Yet- it seems, NOTHING has been done about it. Yes there are differences between government and consultants regarding salaries; however,or the record, I personally know many city employees with the same title as a consultants who make MUCH less; while performing the SAME duties. For instance Project Manager. They do NOT get overtime, have multiple projects, have NOT had a raise in years, work just as many or more hours to get the job done. Newly hired staff make 10-20% higher salaries than seasoned city employees, whom in MOST cases have more experience and qualifications for the position. When is someone going to look at the disparity in salaries by HR for positions, job qualifications of applicants and the constant discriminatory practices occurring daily resulting in the new revitalized DC. RIF's and new performance evaluation documents are being used to rid the District of "unwanted" personal. Just as the new teacher evaluations initiated by the former chancellor helped the new regime eliminate over 1/3 of the teachers, these new evaluations assist the government also. Do you really think that 1/3 of the former fired teachers were incompetent? If you do you need to do some homework on the history of the New Teacher Project under Michelle Rhee. Specifically, look for the data about teacher training, certification and increased test scores. Oh I almost forget, isn't it a conflict of interest to accept a position in a system where you already have an existing contract?