Caveat contract absum, or beware of the missing contract.
Just not very much of it.
Hundreds of active city contracts – involving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and city spending – are not included in the database that purportedly covers the period from July 1, 2010 to the present.
Missing among them: some of the biggest contracts recently awarded by the city as well as some of the most controversial.
Absent, for example, is the $104 million awarded last July to Wheelabrator Technologies for the BRESCO incinerator in South Baltimore and $4.1 million to P. Flanigan & Sons for Grand Prix road paving.
Consultants to city agencies, such as Whitman, Requardt & Associates and Rummel, Klepper & Kahn (RK&K), who have reaped millions of dollars in “on-call” awards approved by the Board of Estimates are missing from the data.
Social services agencies, such as Associated Black Charities and St. Vincent De Paul, that help the city administer HIV, AIDs, Head Start and homeless programs, are also not included.
These groups have been awarded major contracts in the last eight months by the Board of Estimates headed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
Asked about the missing contracts and contractors, Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Rawlings-Blake, said his office would look into the matter this week.
Robert Minor, acting director of MOIT, and others more directly involved in the OpenBaltimore initiative, have not responded to several requests from The Brew on Friday and today for interviews.
A spokesperson for Minor (who took over last week in the wake of the resignation of MOIT director Rico J. Singleton) said he was “extremely busy.”
Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty, who was responsible for MOIT and OpenBaltimore, announced on Friday that he was leaving his city job, effective April 2.
Open Data for Citizens
The database is part of Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s initiative to create a more transparent government. A year ago, she signed an executive order calling on all city agencies, departments, boards and commissions to make data sets under their control available to the public.
The agencies and departments were asked to designate an open data coordinator “to ensure the information provided in the data sets is accurate, clear, complete, unbiased and reliable,” according to a press release.
The data sets would then be placed online at a site called OpenBaltimore under the supervision of Singleton, the city’s Chief Information Officer (CIO).
Other data sets, such as the salaries of city employees, have also been posted on the site.
“Baltimore City Contracts,” the data set posted Friday afternoon, is described as containing “contracts which cover city or agency-specific needs” since July 1, 2010. The apparent source of the data is the Department of Finance.
Some Large Contracts Listed
The dataset has some useful information, such as the amount already spent on a city contract and the amount remaining.
Many of the contracts are for small amounts. We find out, for example, that the Police Department awarded $1,191.20 for plastic pipettes for its crime lab, the Orphan’s Court spent $1,000 for computer repairs and the transportation department ordered $63,220 worth of traffic cones.
Some large contracts are listed. Among them the $37.5 million contract to Veolia Transportation Services for emergency air and helicopter transport for sick patients and $10 million to Motorola Solutions to maintain the city’s radio communications system.
$0.01 for Potts & Callahan?
However there are many gaps in the data that can be most readily seen by the absence of major contractors in the material.
This includes such powerhouses as Whiting-Turner (construction), M. Luis (road paving), Monumental Paving (land clearing), Honeywell Building Solution (security alarms) and Spiniello (sewers).
In other cases, the number of contracts awarded to a vendor are under-reported. For example, P&J Contracting, the city’s biggest demolition company, is listed as having two contracts, while it is actively involved in at least seven contracts.
Another venerable demolition contractor, Potts & Callahan, is listed as holding a single city contract – worth $0.01 – whereas the company currently has contracts valued at $1.5 million.
Why the Missing Data
Our review suggests that the database excludes many contracts that are not directly related to “agency-specific needs.” This might explain why paving, bridge repair, sewer and other bid work is generally not found in the database.
City agencies and departments are responsible for submitting the contract information and keeping it current. Some departments appear to be fairly complete and up-to-date, such as the Fire Department, Police Department, and Housing and Community Development
The Bureau of Purchasing, Bureau of Water, and Department of Recreation and Parks have few listings in the database, while the city’s development arm, Baltimore Development Corp., has no awards listed under its name.
The database also does not appear to record city contracts that, awarded prior to July 1, 2010, have been “renewed” by the Board of Estimates into 2012 and beyond.
To get a sense of how many such contracts may have been missed, The Brew looked at the 23 renewed or increased contracts approved by Board of Estimates at its July 13, 2011 meeting.
Of the 23 contracts approved, only three are listed in the Open Baltimore database. They total $272,000.
On the other hand, the 20 contracts that are missing from the database total $6.29 million.
NOTE: The Brew has been covering city spending closely since July 2010. See our “INSIDE CITY HALL” and other columns detailing contracts awarded at the weekly Board of Estimates meeting.