State auditor dings port

Report: Port broke federal rules for hiring contractors

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A recent Washington State Auditor's Office report criticizes the Port of Camas-Washougal's process for selecting architectural and engineering firms during construction of the port's Building 18 in the Washougal-based Steigerwald Commerce Center (pictured here). (Post-Record file photo)

A recent Washington State Auditor’s Office report dings the Port of Camas-Washougal and condemns the port’s decision to select contractors from a list of pre-qualified architectural and engineering firms, rather than going through the federally required request for proposals (RFP) process.

According to the auditor’s report, in 2017, the port spent $1.2 million in federal program funds to construct its largest structure to date, the 49,500-square-foot Building 18 in the Washougal-based Steigerwald Commerce Center, including $134,332 to hire two contractors, Johansson Architecture, P.C., of Battle Ground, and MacKay Sposito, of Vancouver, for architectural and engineering services. The state auditor’s office concluded the port’s process for selecting those two firms did not meet federal requirements.

“The port cannot demonstrate it gave all interested and qualified firms the opportunity to be considered in the award of its two architectural and engineering contracts, and it did not advertise how the firms would be evaluated,” the auditor’s report stated.

The port is required to advertise its RFPs and identify how it plans to evaluate firms before awarding contracts using public funds.

“Instead of soliciting contractor proposals via public advertisement as required, the port selected contractors for further evaluation from a roster of pre-qualified firms it had on hand,” the auditor’s report stated. “Selecting firms from a roster of pre-qualified firms does not meet the federal requirements to advertise.”

Funding sources for construction of Building 18’s $5.7 million metal, prefabricated structure’s shell included a $2.875 million federal grant from the Economic Development Administration, as well as a $1.7 million loan, a $300,000 grant from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board and $875,000 from the port.

In response to the auditor’s report, Port Finance Director Kim Noah said port staff members responsible for federal grant management attended a federal grant requirements workshop presented by the state auditor’s office and Washington Finance Officers Association, to get up to speed on current federal regulations, as well as a training by the Economic Development Administration’s civil engineer project officer.

“Staff was diligent in doing its best to follow federal requirements,” Noah said in her response to the auditor’s report. “The federal agency responsible for this grant reviewed the port’s procurement policy, (architectural and engineering) contractor checklist and contracts, and approved them.”

Noah said the port has since made changes to ensure the error will not happen again.

“Although there were two areas in the architect and engineering solicitation and debarment process that were not processed correctly, the Port of Camas-Washougal has completed corrective action through policy changes so that this won’t happen in the future,” Noah said, adding the port, which had an operating budget of $10.8 million in 2017, had correctly processed many other federal grant requirements and spent federal funds appropriately and that all costs were allowable for reimbursement.