- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

The Federal Transit Administration is conducting a complete review of Metro's procurement process, including the transit authority's hiring of high-priced consultants at a time when it was laying off workers.

Harris Consulting Inc., a consultant for the FTA, began its review of Metro's procurement department Wednesday, a process that is expected to last at least a month, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

Harris has asked Metro officials for lists of all contracts, audits, contract reviews, resumes of employees, contract administration systems and employees' standards of conduct.

"This is much more detailed than FTA has done in the past," said a Metro employee familiar with past reviews. "They must be looking at the consultants."

FTA consultant Bruce Frame confirmed that the hiring of consultants including a $168-an-hour engineer and a $53-an-hour clerk is part of the FTA review.

Mr. Frame noted that FTA deputy administrator Nuria Fernandez referred to the review Wednesday during a congressional hearing, as a response to a question from Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.

"She stated that we are looking at this, among other things," Mr. Frame said. "This is among the range of things. They are going to look at all the procurement activities."

He would not say if the FTA ordered the review because of reports in The Times about Metro's procurement practices and hiring of consultants. Mr. Frame said the last time the FTA completely reviewed Metro's procurement procedures was 1993, adding that it was time for another thorough review.

Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann also said the FTA will review the consultant contracts. "The FTA regularly reviews our procurement system," he said. "It is part of the normal FTA oversight."

The FTA review comes less than a week after Metro Board Chairman Gladys Mack said that she and the other board members could find nothing wrong with hiring the consultants.

The Times first reported last month that Metro has hired the consultants to do essentially the same work as Metro employees but at two to three times the cost. The transit authority has laid off about 100 employees, saying there was not enough work for them to do, while hiring 108 consultants at an annual cost of $25 million.

Mrs. Mack, who represents D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on the board, said the consultants have filled positions with personnel better skilled than Metro's in-house staff.

But Metro computer supervisor Ric Klein, chief shop steward for the union that represents Metro's professional employees, said the Metro workers who have helped build the subway system over the last 30 years are best qualified.

Mr. Klein, who was on suspension for posting fliers on union bulletin boards criticizing the hiring of the consultants, Thursday said he considers Metro's actions "union busting."

About two dozen Metro union workers Thursday protested Mr. Klein's suspension and the hiring of consultants in front of the transit authority's headquarters.

Metro officials "are [laying off] people, holding down their wages and saying on the other hand they can't attract qualified people," said Mr. Klein, chief shop steward for the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 2.

"So what they do is hire these consultants and then pay them 110, 120, 140 percent overhead at more than twice the cost," he added. "It does not seem economical."

Union President Dan Dyer said he plans to expand a complaint filed in August by four Metro employees who say their work is being done by consultants. He said it appears that the consultants have been hired to take away union jobs.

"We have requested [from Metro] all the work being done by consultants so we can see what work is going out the door," Mr. Dyer said.

The Metro Board began investigating the hiring of consultants after The Times last month reported that Assistant General Manager Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas hired consultant Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle under a $100,000 contract that quickly grew to $333,065 without the Metro board's approval.

General Manager Richard White ended the Lytle contract and told the board it was an oversight, but did not inform the panel that auditors balked at paying Mr. Lytle's high hourly rate because it could not be justified.

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