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Contracting conflict highlights DOE exemptions from city rules

A testy back-and-forth between school officials and the office of Comptroller William Thompson offers a concrete example of what could change if some of the Department of Education’s critics get their way.

Throughout the school governance debate this spring, some have argued for a significant curb on the mayor’s power: to require the DOE to follow the same rules as other city agencies when it comes to budgeting, oversight by the comptroller and public advocate, and public notification about policy changes. That argument reappeared in correspondence from the comptroller’s office this week.

The exchange began last week when Thompson told the DOE that he would not approve a $150 million contract with a school supplies provider because the selected vendor charged more than many stores for the supplies. His critique of the contract and the process the department went through before entering into it was the focus of a Daily News column by Juan Gonzalez earlier this week.

Yesterday, the DOE responded to Thompson’s criticism, explaining in a public letter that the new contract would actually save the city money. In a rejoinder sent last night, Thompson’s office questioned why it took media attention before the department answered its questions about the contracting process. 

Were the department required to follow the same contracting procedures as other city agencies, it would have had to answer those questions throughout the bidding process, the comptroller’s office emphasized. And the shortcomings of the contract process the DOE conducted, such as the fact that the department was seriously weighing just one of two bids, would have been addressed earlier, according to the letter from Thompson’s office.

“If the DOE followed the City’s rules, a single bid would have resulted in a red flag,” wrote John Goddard, an executive in the comptroller’s office.

Both letters are below:

City’s Letter in Response to the Comptroller’s Office 6-9-09

Comptroller’s Office Letter Response to DOE.61009 1