Political pressure influenced FHA contract decision, court says

Tuesday - 4/24/2012, 11:59am EDT

Joe Petrillo, procurement expert, Petrillo and Powell

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One agency is facing questions about why it went with the more expensive contractor for a road project. A court says the Federal Highway Administration let political influence get in the way.

"This was a construction contract let by the Federal Highway Administration for a road project in the Virgin Islands," said Joe Petrillo, a procurement expert with Petrillo and Powell. "It was a continuation of a road project that had already begun."

Virgin Island Paving Co. was the low bidder on the project.

Petrillo told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that FHA had originally chosen that company for the contract but later changed its mind. Virgin Island Paving then decided to protest the decision and filed a lawsuit.

"A court reviewed the record and the court could not find any valid reason for changing the opinion that they'd originally come to," Petrillo said.

In fact, the count found a notation in the record showing that the Virgin Island governor had applied some pressure on the contract decision.

"They held that changing course was irrational," Petrillo said. "They reinstated the low bid and upheld the protest.

In the awarding of government contracts, the question sometimes arises whether political pressure plays a role in the decision making.

"We certainly have a strong indication in this one that it was," Petrillo said.