FAA Official Charge with Fraud in Sea-Tac Runway bid

A federal grand jury has charged a local Federal Aviation Administration official with conspiring to unfairly award a $4.3 million contract for a new runway lighting system at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Robert Ferrell, an FAA contracting officer, was indicted Thursday on illegally providing confidential bidding information to PCL Construction Services and then awarding to PCL a contract to build a lighting system at Sea-Tac.

Vicki Olson, the manager of the FAA's Acquisition Management Branch in Renton and Ferrell's former supervisor, earlier this month pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of procurement fraud in connection with the same contract award.

The penalty for each charge is up to five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

In April 2002, the FAA solicited bids to build the new lighting system at Sea-Tac, according to court papers.

After a first round of submittals, PCL and Donald B. Murphy Contractors were deemed the only two qualified bidders.

PCL and DBM were then asked to submit two progressively more detailed proposals.

FAA engineers said the technical merit of the proposals was similar and recommended the project go to the lower bidder.

DBM's best-and-final offer was $50,700 lower than PCL's. On June 10, 2002, an FAA contracting officer wrote a memo indicating the deal should go to DBM.

Two days later, Olson took that contracting officer off the project and replaced her with Ferrell, according to court papers.

Olson and Ferrell each then contacted PCL and instructed the company to lower its proposal, according to the government. PCL subsequently submitted a revised bid that was $4,300 under DBM's bid. DBM was not given a chance to revise its bid.

On June 14, 2002, Ferrell awarded the contract to PCL. The work has since been completed.

Olson and Ferrell have been placed on administrative leave by the FAA, but are still collecting their salaries, said Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesman. "We are considering all options with regard to these two employees," said Kenitzer. "Until we've reviewed all the documents we can't comment in detail."

Peter Beaupré, president and chief operating officer of PCL Construction Enterprises in Denver, said three employees in the company's Seattle office "may have received some information, unknown to them and unwitting to them, that they shouldn't have had."

Beaupré said he does not believe there was anything nefarious about the intentions of either the PCL or the FAA employees.

"Everything I know says that the only reason why they did it is because [the FAA] was so satisfied with the work we had done in the past that they wanted us to get the contract," Beaupré said.

Ferrell is charged with one count of conspiring with Olson to award the contract to PCL; three counts of procurement fraud; one count of filing a false document; one count of concealment of material facts; and one count of making a false statement to an FAA attorney.

Olson is scheduled to be sentenced May 18.

PCL has agreed to a civil settlement that includes a $1 million payment to the government and a restitution payment to Donald B. Murphy Contractors, the size of which is under negotiation.

The company will not face criminal charges.

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