- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

Two of Metro's highest-paid consultants in the last two years are cronies of a top official who hired a third associate under a $333,000 contract now being investigated by the Metro board, documents obtained by The Washington Times show.

The fees of each of the two consultants amount to twice the $175,000 salary of Metro General Manager Richard White, who last month said the $333,000 contract was a simple error and ended it.

Metro consultant James Palmer's $168 hourly fee added up to $351,998 a year light years beyond the city's highest pay schedule. The same goes for consultant Hanan Kievett, whose $167 an hour would be the equivalent of a year's salary of $349,824, if he were a regular city employee.

Both have worked in top administrative jobs at Metro and are members of firms that do consulting work for Metro. Mr. Palmer works for Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, and Mr. Kievett works for Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc.

Both have been paid high hourly wages and top overhead fees even though Metro has provided offices, equipment and support staff for them.

Both are friends of Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas, Metro's assistant general manager of transit development, and were hired after he had first begun working for the transit authority.

In October 1998, Mr. Salpeas hired consultant Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle under a $100,000, noncompetitive contract that grew in value to $333,065 over the objections of Metro auditors and without the Metro board's knowledge.

The board is investigating the Lytle contract.

Mr. White is scheduled to meet today with Metro Board Chairman Gladys Mack to discuss the high fees the transit authority is paying to consultants.

Mr. White has approved spending $25 million to hire at least 108 consultants to do much the same work as Metro employees but at two to three times the pay of regular employees.

The consultants including a $110,000-a-year clerk have been hired while Metro engineers and construction employees have been laid off because of a lack of work for them to do.

In an interview Friday, Mr. White said the board approved hiring the consultants because of the need to make repairs. He acknowledged that Mr. Palmer and Mr. Kievett previously had worked with Mr. Salpeas, but said they were hired for their expertise, not their friendship with Mr. Salpeas.

Mr. White said it is coincidental that Mr. Salpeas had worked for Mr. Palmer at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and that Mr. Kievett had worked as a consultant with Mr. Salpeas at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco before Mr. Salpeas joined Metro.

"This is a very small industry," the Metro general manager said.

Mr. Palmer worked for eight months as Metro's chief engineer; he now heads a consortium of Metro consultants. Mr. Kievett, as Metro's assistant director for facilities engineering, is Mr. Salpeas' assistant.

Documents show that Mr. Kievett was hired as Mr. Salpeas' assistant only 18 days after Mr. Salpeas had started working at Metro on Sept. 21, 1998.

Mr. Salpeas, who earns $141,000 a year, makes about $200,000 less a year than his consultant assistant.

"I don't know why they need to hire a consultant as an assistant," a Metro employee said, noting the unusual speed with which the consultant was hired. "Why doesn't [Metro] just go out and hire one through normal channels?"

At about the time Mr. Kievett began working for Metro, Mr. Salpeas was hiring Mr. Lytle as a part-time consultant at $165 an hour. Mr. Lytle, whose contract was quickly upgraded to full time, consistently refused to justify his fees to Metro auditors.

The only justification he did provide was a number of invoices he had sent to BART, where he had worked with Mr. Salpeas as a contractor. He was hired at Metro to help develop a design-build contract, identical to the work he did for BART for three years for a total of only $96,000.

Mr. Lytle was paid the top fee though auditors twice questioned his worth. The only justification made for hiring him was that Mr. Salpeas and Gail Charles, assistant general manager for administration, said he was essential to the project.

Since The Times first reported about the Lytle contract, Metro has changed its procurement policies to require contractors to justify all their fees or else be denied work at the transit authority.

Mr. White ended the Lytle contract on Jan. 14, four days after The Times had inquired about it. That same week, Mr. Palmer quit work as Metro's chief engineer and took charge of a consortium of consultants formed last year. He continues to receive almost the same fees for his work.

Mr. White said it is coincidental that both contracts ended during the same week.

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