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D.C. Youth Job Training Contract Plagued With Problems

Training provider's contract revoked after judge's censure

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Young people look for opportunities at a job fair in the District in August. The city's youth job training program is now facing new issues as the nonprofit group hired to provide that training has been fired.
Elahe Izadi
Young people look for opportunities at a job fair in the District in August. The city's youth job training program is now facing new issues as the nonprofit group hired to provide that training has been fired.

The unemployment rate for young people in D.C. is ranked among the highest in the nation and now there are new concerns about how the city picks companies to train the youngest members of its workforce.

D.C.'s Contract Appeals Board issued a blistering opinion earlier this month as it cancelled the contract for one of the city's youth employment training providers. The board, which is made up of administrative judges, found "pervasive" failures and irregularities with the contract award process, including the fact that a dozen companies actually submitted more attractive bids than the group that ended up winning.

The judge who wrote the opinion concluded: "There should now be a growing sense of alarm among the procurement and program professionals charged with implementing" the youth employment contracts.

The group that was awarded the contract is a nonprofit based in Maryland called "Synergistic Inc."

Sean Segal is with the Urban Alliance, one of the groups that lost out to Synergistic and later protested the contract. He was floored when he heard they were awarded the youth training job.

"Honestly, I've done youth employment work in the District for the past six year and my gut reaction was 'who are these people?'" Segal says.

A visit to Synergistic Inc.'s office building in Camp Springs, Md. doesn't necessarily yield an answer to that question. City records list its suite number as 205, but that suite didn't appear to exist in the building.

But at suite 206, which is where a consulting company called The Helix Group operates, was Brian Derby. He’s the CEO of the Helix Group and is listed as the secretary of Synergistic Inc. His wife, Sabrae Derby, is listed as president of Synergistic.

"The only statement we can make is that we do things by the rules," said Derby.

Derby didn't want to talk, but IRS records for the nonprofit group provide details on the relationship between Synergistic Inc. and the Helix Group, and also raise questions about how the non-profit has spent hundreds of thousands in city funds.

According to the most recent tax records, Synergistic was receiving between $400,000 and $750,000 a year from the city to train young people. Of that money, the nonprofit was spending nearly $200,000 per year on salaries for Brian and Sabrae Derby.

On top of that, Synergistic  Inc. was spending another $200,000 each year in consulting fees. The recipient of that money was The Helix Group, which as records show, is run by the same couple and based out of the same office space.

When asked about the tax records, Derby refused to comment and slammed the door to his office.

Contract Appeals Board Opinion: Synergistic Inc. Synergistic IRS Filings
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