- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2000

In 1997, Congress ordered Anthony Williams, then the District's chief financial officer, to tally up the city's motor vehicle fleet. The count was necessary because of a number of issues, including nonessential employees routinely using city vehicles for personal use, and because the 13 members of the D.C. Council, who had 15 vehicles at their disposal, barely feigned interest in the continued misuse of city-owned cars. More important, though, Congress ordered the inventory because no one in D.C. government could provide an accurate count. Well, guess what? Mr. Williams, now mayor, is counting again, and the D.C. Council, still feigning "oversight," is at it again, too.

This time around, however, D.C. officials aren't counting at the behest of Congress. They are counting because they still don't know how many vehicles the city owns, how much they cost or who uses them. In fact, some of the city's estimated 6,000 vehicles, including a spanking new red Ford Explorer and two dozen other SUVs that sat unused during a snowstorm last winter, aren't put to much use at all.

The mayor started the SUV trend with a shiny black Ford Expedition, and officials mimicked his status by purchasing dozens of pricey roadsters. There are 74 all told now. Why so many? There aren't any major floods or rocky terrain in this relatively flat and low-lying city. Then again, maybe they use SUVs because the roads around here remain plagued by potholes.

Seriously, the purchase of and maintenance of the District's fleet remains haphazard, and the city has no proof that all of its vehicles, whatever the number, have been duly inspected.

"In past years, the District has not been very diligent in its usage and purchase of vehicles," Norman Dong, deputy mayor for operations, told The Washington Times' Jim Keary in a June 7 front-page article. "Our inventory has been less than 100 percent reliable in the past." No kidding.

How frustrating for taxpayers and the average motorist that this city can't keep track of its own fleet. Also, one finds it strange the mayor had to direct his deputy mayor, Mr. Dong, to tell his agency directors to evaluate each vehicle an agency uses. And how convenient for the D.C. Council, after months and months of public works "oversight" and procurement "reform," to propose changing the law to centralize fleet management within the Department of Public Works. To be sure, all of this makes perfectly good sense. Why didn't anyone think of it before?

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