- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

The District of Columbia government has spent $7 million more than necessary on city vehicles, according to a House report obtained by The Washington Times.

City officials paid $12.6 million to buy, lease and maintain 784 vehicles during the 29-month period that ended May 1999, according to a report by the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District.

The city would have paid $5.1 million if it had leased the vehicles through the General Services Administration (GSA), the report stated, noting that the city spent an average of $9,151 more per vehicle than necessary.

"For that money … I could buy a lot of textbooks for our schoolchildren and repair a lot of roads," said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican. "It is unconscionable wastefulness."

The subcommittee found that city officials paid up to $25,940 for an SUV; the GSA would have paid $19,978. All of the SUVs, trucks, vans and sedans purchased by the city cost more than what the GSA would have paid.

Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., Oklahoma Republican and subcommittee chairman, wrote to Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday about the spending and asked him to provide a report by July 1 on the types of options bought with the vehicles.

"A comparison has been made to examine how much the District would have spent [and saved] had its motor fleet purchases been made through the General Services Administration, which the District is permitted and encouraged to do," Mr. Istook said in the letter.

Mr. Istook asked the mayor for a list of options purchased with the vehicles so that the subcommittee can make an accurate comparison. The panel is scheduled to meet Friday about the city's management of its fleet of vehicles, and Mr. Istook is expected to quiz city officials about the purchase of vehicles.

"We are trying to help the District, whether your goal is to reduce taxes, to pay off the debt, to pay for improvements or to expand services, everyone needs to help eliminate wasteful spending," Mr. Istook said through a spokeswoman. "We can't change the past, but reviewing it can help improve future purchasing."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams said he could not comment until after he has seen Mr. Istook's letter.

The subcommittee report echoes a finding this month by The Times, which reported that the District's collection of expensive but seldom-used vehicles has grown significantly despite Mr. Williams' promise to manage the fleet better.

City officials have bought 74 sport utility vehicles at a cost of more than $20,000 each, increasing the District's tally of gas-guzzling SUVs to 308, since Mr. Williams took office in January 1999, The Times reported on June 7.

Mr. Williams announced a plan for a motor-pool program after The Times inquired about the management of the city's vehicles and Mrs. Schwartz proposed legislation to create a centralized motor pool.

"I have a great concern about the costs of these vehicles and their efficient use," Mrs. Schwartz said. "That's why I offered the bill to consolidate fleet management, so we could be more cost effective."

The more expensive, city-owned SUVs have become more prevalent since Mr. Williams has been using a Ford Expedition to get around town.

For example, city health department officials, including Director Ivan Walks, use a $38,000 Chevrolet Suburban, complete with gray leather interior, raised white letter tires, shiny alloy wheels, luggage rack, running boards and dark tinted windows.

Except for its license plate (No. GT 3362), the SUV bears no markings identifying it as city vehicle.

Dr. Walks did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The House subcommittee report found the D.C. Department of Public Works, which is setting up a citywide fleet maintenance program, overspent by $598,046 on the 170 vehicles it purchased about $3,500 more per vehicle than the GSA spends for comparable vehicles.

GSA spokeswoman Viki Reath said the District can and does purchase vehicles through the the agency.

"We actually buy for the whole federal government. D.C., the Red Cross and the Postal Service can buy and lease from us," she said.

During the current fiscal year, the GSA has purchased 52,268 vehicles. Of those, 251 were purchased for the District, mostly police cars, ambulances and pickup trucks for the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

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