- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2000

In another proud moment for District officials, it turns out that D.C. police Chief Charles Ramsey had to borrow Humvees from the National Guard to get through this week's storm even as several dozen city-owned sport utility vehicles (SUVs) sat unused. This newspaper's Jim Keary and Ronald Hansen reported that most of the city's 47 SUVs, which belong to 10 city agencies that closed during the storm, simply collected snow when police officials might have been using them.

In one case, an SUV belonging to the Office of Business Services and Economic Development sat surrounded in snow in front of 1 Judiciary Square, hardly an out-of-the-way location. One wonders why, if the agency is going to close any time weather turns bad enough to make travel by SUV necessary, the agency has one in the first place. Mayor Williams puts his city-owned SUV to good use, but that doesn't account for the 46 other vehicles.

All this has some members of the D.C. Council screaming for oversight hearings. "It makes sense," council member Jim Graham told The Times, "for us to inquire into all of our equipment needs and uses." It certainly does but for one small matter been there, done that.

At the insistence of Congress in 1997, Mr. Williams compiled an inventory of city-owned vehicles and the number assigned to employees for take-home use. At the time the District owned 5,750 cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, ambulances, motorcycles and fire trucks. The Department of Public Works was responsible for about 4,000 of them. City officials promised then to keep better track of the fleet. Obviously theirs was an empty promise.

Just last year The Times found dozens of unused vehicles owned by the city ditched on various lots around the District. Some were old and some, including the SUVs, had low mileage and were in fair-to-good working condition. The person responsible for fleet management, Ron Flowers, explained why to The Times. "We don't have a unified inventory system in place. Hopefully in years to come we'll have everyone on one database." Will another snowstorm blow across Washington before that happens?

The answer is probably "yes" given the fact the control board has already spent tens of thousands of taxpayers' dollars studying the problem and spent tens of thousands more upgrading the city's fleet and the most city officials can show for all that money are cars and trucks for the persons responsible for writing parking tickets. This is no way to run a city.

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