- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2000

Mismanagement and D.C. government what a worrisome twosome. Audits have detailed how school officials wasted money on contracts on trash collections, security services and food-service programs, how human service officials wasted millions on contracts on foster care, homeless and welfare programs; and how public works contractors bilked motorists on parking tickets. There are countless other examples that give new meaning to the term "managed competition." It is almost as if each agency is trying to see who can out-mismanage the other. Add the Metropolitan Police Department to the list.

MPD contracted with a firm called Serco in November 1999 to manage its fleet maintenance. The contract was for $3.5 million and was designed to lower the costs of maintenance, which used to be handled in-house. By the end of the last fiscal year, which was Sept. 30, MPD owed Serco an additional $880,000.

"It was not managed right, and priorities were not set. It was a poorly written contract," Chief Chuck Ramsey told reporter Jim Keary of The Washington Times. "I didn't realize how bad it was until we were halfway through the year." Serco had no comment.

Part of the cost overruns are attributed to the type of repairs Serco handled. For example, MPD budgeted $389,600 for body and major repairs. Serco, however, made more than $1.1 million in repairs. Chief Ramsey's explanation: When managers weren't looking, Serco made unnecessary repairs by fixing minor dents. At the "rate police officers ding cars," he said, "you could go through a lot of money quick if you try and fix them all." Gee, thanks, chief.

But that's not all the fleet managers, if you can call them "managers," are having trouble managing. Seems they are having major problems getting new patrol cars on the road, too.

About 100 licensed police cars are awaiting decals, emergency light bars and radios. Thirty-three of those new cars, white Crown Victorias that cost about $24,000 each, have been sitting since August in an unsecured lot at the Police Academy in Southwest.

But wait, there's more. MPD is investigating the contractor it hired earlier this year to auction off its older patrol cars. That firm, Colonial Auction Services Inc., which operates in Upper Marlboro, has a history of falsifying title documents. Several other local government agencies and charities no longer do business with Colonial, including Metro. MPD learned of Colonial's legal troubles after inquiries from Mr. Keary.

Some D.C. Council members are a bit concerned, as you might expect and well they should be. These latest problems hardly showcase the so-called procurement "reforms" the legislature led taxpayers to believe would curb misspending. Nor, for that matter, do they bode well for the chief.

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