Procurement boss resigns after poor audit

17 November 2020

The City of Portland’s chief procurement officer has resigned after an audit revealed not enough contracts were awarded to minority and women-owned firms. 

Lester Spitler, who became CPO in April 2018, said he’d become “the target” of frustration in an email to city colleagues, according to Oregon Live.

He said: “The environment here has eroded so much that I no longer feel like a valued or trusted member of the city leadership team and see fewer and fewer opportunities for me to contribute. This is frustrating because I believe I have a lot to offer.”

Spitler’s resignation comes after a Portland city commissioner told a city council meeting that she had “no confidence in the current makeup of the procurement office” last month. 

An audit published in September looking at equity in construction contracting found the City of Portland’s procurement function “did not do enough to protect the city’s contracting equity initiatives from actions that undermined effectiveness”. 

Auditors said procurement “did not investigate complaints about questionable certifications, create criteria to prevent project bundling, monitor for bid-rigging, or ensure communication about upcoming projects did not favour individual contractors”.

The audit also examined Portland’s Prime Contractor Development Program, which was established in 2012 and aimed to support the development of contractors through “training and technical assistance and by limiting competition on prime construction contracts less than $1m to participant firms”. 

Auditors said: “The program did not achieve key outcomes such as providing work primarily to minority and women-owned firms and helping contractors develop the ability to win larger contracts because procurement did not set goals for these outcomes and report on them. 

“Council directed procurement to set performance targets for women and minority-owned contractor participation in the Prime Contractor Development Program and to establish metrics for the program’s performance, but procurement never did.

“This made it impossible for the public, procurement, and council to assess whether program results were adequate. Without goals to define progress, the program may reinforce disparities.”

The audit found that white-owned firms won most of the contract dollars awarded via the programme, while its training and technical assistance programmes were “generally unsuccessful, disorganised, and wasteful”. 

In a city council meeting last month, commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, said there had been “no surprises” in the findings of the audit, as “different staff don’t know the law around contracting and what they can and can’t do”. 

She added: “It is clear certain people in procurement operate differently and outside of what the city council has set as their standard. And some people, just honestly, are lazy and they aren’t willing to do their due diligence and additional work to make sure that other people are getting these opportunities. 

“Major contractors know this and they laugh at us on a regular basis because we continue to aspire and we don’t achieve.”

Hardesty added: “I think we have the wrong people in procurement. I’ll just say that right now. I have no confidence that the current makeup of our procurement office is ever going to change the outcome of what we want.

“It’s very disappointing to me that we continue to say one thing, and we continue to allow city resources to be gamed so that the same major white contractors receive all of the benefit and the same people continue to lose.”

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