Today’s report by the Special Inspector General for TARP finds possible problems with $676,840—or about two-thirds—of more than $1 million in legal fees that Venable billed to the Treasury Department. Venable’s invoices were vague, the report contends, with the firm’s use of “block-billing,” or single charges that included several tasks without specifying the time spent on each, singled out as especially egregious. Auditors also place blame on Treasury officials for lax oversight of the legal tab. Ultimately, though, they could not determine whether Venable did anything improper because the bills were too vague to support such a conclusion.
Venable’s billing practices were at the center of another controversy in 2007, when an investigation by DC Auditor Deborah Nichols concluded the firm had overcharged the city more than $250,000 for its work on securing land for the new Nationals baseball stadium. That report found that Venable had charged higher rates than were laid out in its 2005 contract, and also improperly billed the city for expenses such as meals.
Then-DC Council chairman (now DC mayor) Vincent Gray responded that he had never seen “a contract more poorly administered than this one.” At the time, Venable told the Legal Times that it had agreed to cut about $300,000 off the city’s legal tab to correct any errors.
Washingtonian.com has reached out to Venable for comment on its billing practices, and we will update when we hear back.
UPDATE: In an e-mailed statement, Venable says the firm "fully cooperated with the Treasury Department's reporting requirements" and is confident that "Treasury received fair value" for the services provided. The firm's spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment on Venable's billing practices in general.