- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson said he is dissolving department petty cash accounts, reducing credit card limits and closely monitoring contracts after an inspector general’s audit said fire officials had mishandled millions of dollars under former Chief Ronnie Few.

The questionable contracts and purchases were detailed in a recently released 26-page review by the D.C. inspector general of credit-card records and contract files from 2000 through 2003.

According to the report, buying prohibited items on department credit cards and splitting purchases to avoid daily spending limits became a routine practice within the department.

Chief Thompson said when he was named interim chief in May 2002 he began correcting the credit-card abuse and identifying those responsible.

“Most of the folks were with Chief Few’s administration and some of them have been terminated,” Chief Thompson said.

He said he was aware of the problems but he was not aware of its extent until the audit report was released.

“I was surprised,” said Chief Thompson, who served in the department’s No. 2 position as chief of operations under Chief Few. “I never used credit cards.”

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that oversees the fire department, said questions about the mishandling of the funds, particularly the unauthorized credit-card charges, will be raised during an oversight hearing scheduled for June 2.

“I will be asking — and want answers — on who is being held accountable for the unauthorized credit-card purchases,” Mrs. Patterson said.

In one case, an unidentified employee within the department’s public information office spent $5,000 on food in Maryland and Virginia grocery stores, wholesale clubs and a steak shop, Murry’s Steaks in Upper Marlboro over a six-month period.

Purchases of meals, entertainment or food on a department credit card are prohibited; yet, in some instances, supervisors approved the purchases without seeing purchase receipts.

In another case in May 2002, the department’s research and development director charged $12,829 to cater an EMS Week event and the department’s annual picnic even though food and entertainment are prohibited uses of a credit card. It also says the catering costs were split into increments of $2,000 to bypass spending limits.

Chief Thompson fired both the research and development director, Deborah Kilpatrick, and the director of the public information office, Lisa Bass in January 2003.

He said that cardholder purchases are now reviewed monthly and that any infractions will be referred to an agency review team “with appropriate disciplinary action taken.”

The report also pointed out that petty cash accounts were used for unauthorized expenditures. Under D.C. law, such accounts cannot contain more than $500 and can be used only for purchases of $150 or less.

The audit revealed that of four such accounts within the department, one contained as much as $3,000 and was used to improperly pay for T-shirts, business cards, salary advances and a subscription to The Washington Times for Chief Few.

Among the improper expenditures were two checks totaling $305 to the D.C. Treasurer for parking tickets. It was not clear whether the tickets were issued to department vehicles or private vehicles.

Chief Thompson said by the end of this month, three of the accounts will be dissolved and the remaining one will be reduced to the authorized $500 limit.

The audit also revealed that 23 of 25 contracts worth a total of $4.2 million lacked documentation showing that the contract items were paid for or received.

It said two of the 25 contracts examined were improperly “sole-sourced,” or awarded without competitive bids, and that 10 of the contracts had no supporting documentation showing that vendors provided the best price available.

Jacques Abadie III, the city’s chief procurement officer, said in his own response to the inspector general’s report that revised procedures governing the award of sole-source contracts were instituted in March along with new requirements for maintaining contract files.

He also said his department instituted an automated procurement system in August 2003 that will enhance the fire department’s contract reporting capability.

Asked whether he thought the problems identified in the report had been corrected, Chief Thompson said, “Absolutely.”

“We make sure through the Office of Contracting and Procurement that all contracts are reviewed,” he said. “They monitor what is or what is not received to make sure they are in synch.”

Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said he was satisfied that the fire chief has corrected the issues raised in the report because supplies such as fire trucks and emergency gear are getting to the end users.

“I think the corrective action has been taken,” Lt. Sneed said. “I think from Chief Thompson’s standpoint, he’s more concerned about accountability than the Few administration [was].”

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