Gray: Ed Data Project "A Sordid Mess"
The D.C. Council spent a couple of hours hammering two senior District officials Friday afternoon about the collapse of the $12 million educational data warehouse it voted to fund more than a year ago.
On Sept. 9, the District dumped Williams, Adley & Co., the lead contractor on the Statewide Longitudinal Educational Data Warehouse (SLED), after spending $5.5 million on what officials said was a series of blown deadlines and instances of defective software. The system, considered a foundational element of school reform, was to be a repository for critical information about students, teachers and schools. Among the features was a "Unique Student Identifier," a number that would allow the District to track the academic progress of individual students from pre-K through college graduation.
Gray, joined by Council members David A. Catania (I-At-Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), told State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs and Chief Procurement Officer David P. Gragan that they approved Williams, Adley despite reservations about tight deadlines and the wherewithal of the firm. Gray said IBM, one of the other finalists for the job, "seemed to be eminently better."
"We were assured the deadlines were appropriate and that the contractor was up to the task," said Gray. Instead, the District has spent $5.5 million "to fund a project with no apparent tangible results," he added, calling the whole venture "a sordid mess."
Williams, Adley has not returned a series of phone calls and e-mails in the weeks since its contract was terminated.
Briggs inherited SLED from her predecessor, Deborah Gist, who resigned in April. But she was excoriated by Gray Friday for not informing the council about the project's troubles, which included the firm's own financial problems.
The District sent a "cure notice" to Williams, Adley in mid-June, warning it to correct serious performance issues, but Briggs did not brief Gray until late August.
"I can say we're going to do better attempts at communicating," a subdued Briggs said. But when she deflected questions about monitoring of the contract, citing possible litigation and the need to "preserve the District's options," Gray grew exasperated.
"Why aren't we entitled to know that?" he asked.
Catania said the issues were larger than SLED, and went to the nature of the District's contracting and procurement practices. Nine firms presented proposals for the project.
"Our contracting and procurement system has nothing to do with getting the best product at the best price," he said, calling the process "replete with gamesmanship, winks and subjectivity."
The District has retained Gartner, an IT research firm, to determine how to get the project back on track.
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