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Contractor says VA owes thousands in unpaid billings for Cape’s new clinic

By Staff | Jul 9, 2011

A disabled veteran minority business owner working on the new Veterans Administration clinic in Cape Coral is claiming that the VA is not only withholding payment of $62,000 for cost overages, but that his business also fell prey to thinly veiled racial discrimination while on the job.
Ernesto Lamar, of Virginia based “Lamar and Associates,” had his request for payment denied by the VA.
The VA says the billings were cost overages rightfully denied but Lamar, who has turned his complaint over to a collections firm in hopes of recouping the funds, says those overages would not have occurred if his business and its representatives were treated fairly, he said.
“My company is in a bad situation,” he said.
Lamar and Associates is serving as the project’s Special Inspections and Construction Materials testing firm, working on a two-year contract with the VA valued at $260,000.
The overages occurred, Lamar said, because a VA project liaison repeatedly found issue with his project manager and Lamar had to constantly travel to the site to fix what he maintains wasn’t broken.
The VA then stopped communicating with Lamar’s representatives, he said, and eventually replaced Lamar’s people with their own, “less-qualified,” project managers.
Lamar said his project managers were not only highly certified, but also experienced.
Lamar also is worried that the problems he’s experienced on this job will affect bidding on future projects.
“If we were doing a substandard performance we’d be out of there right now,” Lamar said. “It’s on their side of the pond that caused this whole situation.”
VA officials disagree.
Faith Belcher, a spokesperson for the VA based in the Bay Pines facility in St. Petersburg, said that the VA denied Lamar’s request for overages because it was outside of the terms of the contract.
Working under a “firm fixed price indefinite” contract, Belcher said the contract with Lamar and Associates, valued at $260,000, will be honored.
Belcher said the VA did not have control over who was working for Lamar and Associates on the jobsite, adding that Lamar had control over all “human resources” aspects of the work.
“Our only request is that person (the project manager) be qualified, we don’t choose who is hired and fired,” Belcher added.
Belcher said Lamar and Associates will be rated on its performance once the contract is completed in March 2012, and that it was not a “performance to date” rating.
That rating is not public, she said, but will be available to other agencies should they request it.
“They knew the terms of the contract. I can’t speak to why they’re incurring other costs,” Belcher said.
Instead of conducting a true investigation into his claims, Lamar said the VA had the same person with whom he had had issues look into the matter.
He was not contacted or asked any questions during the investigation, he said.
For now, he will have to wait and see how the situation plays out with the collection agency, and their lawyers, if it goes that far.
“This was a huge opportunity for us,” he said. “But they had a problem working with minorities or people of color.”