Flaws found in L.A. college district’s search for inspector general

A new, independent review of the Los Angeles Community College District’s $6-billion campus construction program found a number of flaws in the process for selecting an inspector general to oversee the project, concluding that the eventual winner lacked essential experience and qualifications.

In the review released Wednesday, Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel found that the original proposal for bids was vague on the functions and requirements for the office of the inspector general. The district initially did not specify, for example, that bidders would need to fill a full-time position of inspector general rather than only supplying support staff.

The first round of interviews was poorly conducted, the review found, and potential conflicts of interest were not checked.

For example, it was not disclosed that the president of the firm ultimately selected, Policy Masters Inc., had previously worked for Gateway Science & Engineering Inc., which had contracted with the district for years on the rebuilding project.

(The district had accused Gateway of billing improprieties, which the company had denied, and in April the two sides reached an agreement under which the Pasadena firm will continue to supervise the $450-million building program at Los Angeles Mission College.)

Greuel’s report also found that the district’s own review panel lacked adequate instructions on how to evaluate proposals and that a separate interview panel had apparently redefined the original role of the inspector general.

“The district should use this audit as a road map of the flaws we identified to look at existing contracts and the RFP [request for proposal] process to ensure they have tightened up controls and to ensure there are no questions about the integrity of the process,” Greuel said in an interview.

Many of the findings mirrored those in an August 2011 report by State Controller John Chiang, which cited “possible malfeasance” in the district’s selection of an inspector general, an office set up to police allegations of waste and mismanagement in the construction program. That report led the district’s board of trustees to call on Greuel to review the process.

Those allegations were detailed by The Times last year in a six-part series. The articles uncovered cost overruns, delays and shoddy workmanship in the ambitious project to modernize the district’s nine aging campuses using bond money approved by voters in 2001, 2003 and 2008. About half the construction funds have been spent.

The L.A. County district attorney’s office is conducting an inquiry into the hiring of the inspector general, officials said.

The college district said it has undertaken a series of reforms, including imposing a moratorium on new projects, centralizing management and setting new audit procedures. Officials said the new report, prepared by Harvey M. Rose Associates, a San Francisco consulting firm, may prompt further actions.

“The process used to hire the inspector general was problematic at best and we have taken numerous steps to improve our overall RFP process,” Chancellor Daniel LaVista said. “We will review the controller’s recommended areas for improvement and take steps to implement them where we have not done so already.”

Trustee Miguel Santiago said those steps might include submitting a new proposal request.

“I have serious concerns with some of the issues I’ve read in the audit and no responsible option is going to be off the table,” Santiago said.

Christine E. Marez, the head of Policy Masters and the current inspector general, said that, as a bidder, she was unaware of the deficiencies in the process. She said that although her firm was new, it had experienced staff who followed all the guidelines.

Marez said that since taking the position, many of the problems outlined by Greuel have been corrected and that she has overseen several other reforms that have saved the district millions of dollars.

“I work for the board and will continue to provide a level of integrity and accountability that I have stood for my entire career,” Marez said.