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Tough Sledding for Ed Data Project

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs didn't have a lot to say Monday about why they canned Williams, Adley & Co., hired last year to build a $12 million educational data warehouse. But in an eight-page termination letter, John P. Varghese, interim assistant director of the District's office of contracting and procurement, had plenty.

The Sept. 9 letter, hand delivered to Williams, Adley managing partner Kola Isiaq, said in essence that the firm made a hash of just about every critical element of the project, formally known as the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data Warehouse System (SLED). One section refers parenthetically to a "Defect # 616," never a good sign.

"To date, Williams Adley has failed to deliver the system as stated in the technical design document," Varghese wrote, adding that the firm "has provided no acceptable excuses for failure to deliver."

SLED was supposed to bring order and coherence to information about the District's education system--DCPS, public charter schools and the University of the District of Columbia--now scattered among databases, file cabinets and desk drawers in multiple agencies.

The finished product was envisioned as a portal through which parents and policymakers could track the academic progress of students and teachers from pre-school to college graduation. Such a system is now regarded by education experts and federal regulators as essential for school districts in need of reform.

But what was supposed to be a signature initiative for OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education) is now close to a year behind schedule. Briggs, who was not around when Williams, Adley got the job, said she hopes to have a new contractor within a couple of months.

Some components that were supposed to be in place by now, including a unique ten-digit identifying number for each District student, and a list of kids certified for free or reduced price lunch, are not complete. Varghese's letter, which followed a detailed warning notice issued in June, said District officials don't even have a way of knowing whether the fragment of a system they have is working.

"The Contracting Officer is aware of multiple times over the last few months when the SLED system has been inoperable and the monitoring system has failed to alert the District of any problems," he said.

Varghese also said that the company pulled what amounted to a bait-and-switch (our descriptor, not his) with its technical personnel, noting that "many of the persons previously identified in Williams Adley's second Best and Final Offer have not worked on the SLED project," and that the firm "introduced other resources without communication or approval," from District officials.

Williams, Adley also promised to provide "change management," bureaucratese for showing folks how to use SLED. But that never happened either, according to Varghese, who said the District eventually had to hire another firm to handle it.

The "critical defect" was SLED's inability to carry over student names from the last school year to this one, a big problem for what is supposed to be a longitudinal data system. Citing an Aug. 7 e-mail sent to the company, Varghese said the "fundamental purpose and function of a longitudinal data system [was] meant to track data over time [and] not replenish data each year."

There is, no doubt especially where District government is concerned, another side to the story. The letter refers to several responses filed by Williams, Adley, including an Aug. 4 e-mail citing a "defect in OSSE's requirements set up for SLED" as the reason for the problem with the student names. But we've yet to see those, and Isiaq has not responded to numerous phone messages.

- Bill Turque

By Washington Post editors  |  September 30, 2009; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque  
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Comments

This sounds horrendous – on both the supplier and the client side.

It’s hard to imagine a contract getting this far out of control without oversight. Bill - Maybe you could track down some of this firm’s other clients. [I couldn’t find a client list or client testimonials on their website, after a cursory search].

My devious mind sees a scheme –this could be a warning to current DCPS contractors to do whatever asked, no matter how unprofessional, or risk being put in this situation. It could also be a warning to prospective contractors to stay far away from DCPS or charge a lot and sell your soul. If this works, all data-gathering and analysis would be controlled in-house and manipulated at will.

Posted by: efavorite | September 30, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Below is some client info from Zoominfo on Isiaq, as of 2005. This is not a shabby list. I wonder if the IRS was satisfied with his work?

“His government clients include the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Agriculture, Department of Treasury, Department of Treasury, and Department of Justice and the District of Columbia to name a few.Mr. Isiaq is currently managing a large financial management service engagement involving more than 20 countries around the world including countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.He recently completed travels to many of these countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Ukraine, Georgia, and Bolivia.His engagement involves ensuring financial integrity and accountability for development projects around the world.Mr. Isiaq also provides financial management services to several commercial organizations including banking institutions and many non-governmental organizations such as DC Partnership for the Homeless, Friendship House for Social Services, Integrated Minority AIDs Network, Inc., and Men Can Prevent Rape, Inc.He is also involved in the financial audit of Howard University and provides financial consulting services to the University of the District of Columbia” http://www.zoominfo.com/people/Isiaq_Kola_8465210.aspx

Posted by: efavorite | September 30, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

And we wonder why the city is experiencing a budget shortage. First the DC Tax and Revenue office scammers walk out with millions and in some cases thousands of dollars, the Office of Technology scammers devised their on personal "benefit plan" and now this.

Where is the oversight and accountability that this government is always talking about? People are losing their jobs because of poor judgment and managerial skills. So much for statehood!

Posted by: shank2sb | September 30, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

S.L.E.D.?

Maybe SLUDGE.

Posted by: edlharris | September 30, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

How much money did we waste this time?

Posted by: candycane1 | September 30, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Candycane1,
I want to know the same thing. How much has the DC government paid into the coffers of Williams, Adley & Co. before the plug was pulled?

I thought the mayoral takeover was supposed to end inefficiencies and waste that has plagued the school system for years. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 30, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Sad thing is none of this is technically difficult. Yeah, rummaging thru file drawers for records is a royal pain, but that gets outsourced to clerks. But let nobody kid you that setting up a longitudinal database is any big deal. Every bank and credit card company (for example) already has that basic infrastructure on its customers.

My guess is what happened here is that Rhee/Fentry got wowed and overimpressed that this was really some big deal and either overruled, fired, or sidelined internal voices who might have raised the appropriate red flags.

Posted by: dz159 | September 30, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

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