- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

Metro Board Chairman Gladys Mack Thursday defended the publicly funded transit authority's hiring of 108 high-priced consultants to do essentially the same work as Metro employees but at two to three times the cost.

Mrs. Mack's comments came after a two-hour, closed-door board meeting with General Manager Richard White, who explained to the board how the consultants have been used.

The Washington Times first reported that some of the consultants, including a $53-an-hour clerk and $168-an-hour engineers, are cronies of top Metro officials.

Mrs. Mack Thursday denied the report. "We do not have cronyism. That is not an issue."

Mr. White has approved spending $25 million a year to hire the consultants while Metro has laid off or farmed out about 100 of its employees, citing a lack of work for them to do. The general manager has said the consultants were hired because of their expertise, not their friendship with Metro officials.

"We have completed our review, and we are satisfied with the explanation we were given by White," Mrs. Mack said in a prepared statement. "The use of these contractors is well within the policies and guidelines established by the board for these purposes.

"I want to emphasize that the rates for these various contractors are thoroughly reviewed and audited by the federal government," said Mrs. Mack, who represents D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on the board.

"I can assure Metro's customers and the region's taxpayers that the funds being utilized for outside contractors are being spent wisely, prudently and responsibly."

The board began examining the hiring of consultants last month after The Times reported that a consultant's $100,000, noncompetitive contract grew to $333,065 over the objections of auditors and without the board's knowledge.

Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas, Metro's assistant general manager for transit development, hired consultant Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle soon after Mr. Salpeas had begun working at the transit authority.

Mr. White said the contract was a simple mistake and ended it in January after The Times inquired about it.

Ric Klein, a Metro computer supervisor, said the board has once again ignored problems at Metro.

"It is apparent the board has abrogated its oversight responsibility of anything that happens at the authority," said Mr. Klein, chief shop steward for the Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 2.

Mr. Klein, who represents about 550 Metro engineers, accountants and clerks, was suspended a week ago after he posted a bulletin criticizing Mr. White for failing to find any wrongdoing in the hiring of Mr. Lytle.

After the board meeting, Mrs. Mack acknowledged that some Metro employees have lost their jobs while the consultants were being hired because of a slowing in construction.

Some of the laid-off workers are Local 2 members, and four union employees have filed an official grievance claiming that consultants are doing their work. Metro has not yet responded to the grievance.

Meanwhile, Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann responded to The Times' report Thursday that characterized Mr. Salpeas as a construction manager who is more concerned with timetables than costs.

"Due to the effort of Takis and many other valuable Metro employees, we are currently $126 million under budget on the extension of the Green Line to Branch Avenue," he said in a prepared statement.

However, Mr. Feldmann did not mention that the inner-city Green Line was completed on budget rather than under budget because of cost overruns and that Metro is still embroiled in a federal lawsuit with one of its contractors that could cost the transit authority $40 million.

In addition, according to Metro's fiscal 2000 budget, the majority of the savings have been attributed to Metro's Fast Track construction program that was approved by the Metro Board in December 1991 under former General Manager David Gunn.

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