Robert H. Pearre Jr., Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speak at a press conference about suspected subcontracting fraud in the mayor's information technology department. (Brandi Bottalico, Baltimore Sun / March 18, 2014)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that she has ordered an investigation into the administration's information technology department, saying the city has received allegations that contractual employees have been paid for work they did not perform.

"There have been very serious allegations of fraud and abuse leveled against the office, and we will get to the bottom of it," the mayor said. "I want to know if any of these allegations are true."

Rawlings-Blake said she directed city Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. to lead the investigation of the Mayor's Office of Information Technology. Pearre — a former FBI agent and chief investigator for the House Appropriations Committee in Washington — joined the city in May.

Pearre said Tuesday that he expects the probe to take weeks, not months. "We are going to jump on this immediately," he said.

Mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris said the mayor launched the investigation after receiving reports of potential improprieties in the department "in a number of ways and from more than one potential source."

"We want to look at people who work as subcontractors for MOIT," Harris said. "We want to know: Was the work done? Was the work done by people who said they did it? And was it done as efficiently as it could have been done?"

Harris said the investigation will focus on contractual work completed in the past 18 months. He said three companies have provided contractual workers during that period: Digicon, which has offices in Rockville and Virginia; Windbourne Consulting LLC, which has an office in Washington, among other cities; and Telecommunications Systems Inc., an international firm headquartered in Annapolis.

Windbourne Consulting and Telecommunications Systems Inc. are currently under contract with the city to provide staffing, Harris said. Digicon is not.

Representatives from each of the three companies did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Chris Tonjes, who has been head of the information technology office since 2012, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Contractual workers comprise a large part of the information technology office's workforce, although city officials were unable to provide the number of contractual workers employed during the past 18 months. The office has a $37 million budget and 306 city employees.

"Given the nature of the allegations and the millions of taxpayer dollars subject to this inquiry, it is important that we investigate quickly and transparently," Rawlings-Blake said.

This is not the first time that the information technology office has come under scrutiny.

The former head of the office, Rico Singleton, resigned in February 2012 after the release of a New York state audit that found he had negotiated jobs for his girlfriend and himself while working for that state's information technology office.

Later that year, the department's efforts to overhaul Baltimore's municipal phone system were the subject of a scathing report by then-Inspector General David McClintock.

McClintock found that the office had purchased nearly $675,000 in phone-related equipment under an existing contract with Digicon rather than seeking new proposals. The report found potential conflicts of interest and missed opportunities for "significant cost savings."

The report also found that officials in the information technology office withheld information from other city officials about the purchase of the phone and computer equipment.

Moreover, a former deputy mayor instructed a top MOIT official to deny to City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young that the office had embarked on an effort to upgrade the city's government's phone system.

Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that she wants Pearre's office to provide a comprehensive correction plan for the information technology office.

"I want to ensure accountability, integrity, efficiency and transparency in the use of subcontractors," Rawlings-Blake said. "To the degree we find existing policies have not been followed, I want to know now."

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt — who had raised concerns about the phone deal in 2012 — said she believes the technology office has been overly reliant on contractors. Since 2006, the office has spent more than $25 million on contractors, she said.