In a recent radio interview, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she once “had concerns” about Extra Work Orders (EWOs) that routinely come before the Board of Estimates.
That happened when she joined the board in 2007 as city council president and was confronted with requests to award a vendor with additional funds on an existing contract without competitive bidding.
Rawlings-Blake began to feel comfortable with approving EWOs after she learned that there is “a process” so that “you don’t just put a work order in and get paid,” she told radio host Marc Steiner.
On Wednesday, she and other board members awarded an EWO that more than doubled the unit price of dredging done in the Inner Harbor.
Back in February, McLean Contracting Co. narrowly beat out Corman Marine to dredge 80,000 cubic feet of sediment to accommodate the tall ships arriving for the city’s Sailabration.
On the face of it, McLean’s price of $13.32 per cubic yard of removed spoil was a triumph of competitive bidding because it came in considerably below the city’s own cost estimate.
But that estimate didn’t account for the EWO that was submitted Wednesday to the board by the Department of Transportation, which handles large-scale Inner Harbor events.
The $160,800 bill was for 5,600 cubic yards of additional dredging. That amounted to $28.71 per cubic yard, or 116% above the original bid price.
Jamie Kendrick, deputy director of DOT, and his staff said the dredging was needed for the safe movement of ships at Fort McHenry and Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor.
Asked why the added work – which extended the contract by 45 days – wasn’t separately bid, Kendrick emailed back: “One of the most significant costs and the biggest lead time on dredging cost is mobilization. To mobilize simply for additional dredging that is less than 10% of the overall job would be an imprudent additional cost to the taxpayers.”
We asked for additional information. Late yesterday Kendrick wrote back: “We have provided sufficient information pursuant to your request. From what we have sent and what is available through the Board, you should be able to draw a thorough fact pattern.”
One question we asked several times – but never got a reply – was whether there were more EWOs in store. We also tried to ask George Bosmajian, president of McLean, but he did not respond to our voicemail message.
34th EWO on Same Contract
The question is relevant because EWOs have a tendency to keep old contracts “alive” far beyond their original termination dates.
Consider another item that was passed by the Board of Estimates on Wednesday – an EWO for Water Contract 1198.
Awarded to Spiniello Companies in 2009, the water contract keeps getting bigger and bigger through extra work orders.
We started writing about this contract in June 2011, when it had reached 18 EWOs and was criticized by City Auditor Robert L. McCarty for bundling together all sorts of repair functions.
On Wednesday in came EWO No. 34 for undisclosed “urgent need work infrastructure rehabilitation.” This placed the current cost of WC 1198 at $22.8 million – or $12.4 million over the original bid price.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young voted against the Spiniello EWO. But it was approved on the strength of “yes” votes from Mayor Rawlings-Blake, City Comptroller Joan Pratt, Public Works Director Alfred Foxx and Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph.