- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General is investigating whether officials skirted city regulations when awarding a contract for the Metropolitan Police Department’s traffic-camera programs.

The $5 million contract involves maintenance and support for automated cameras used to record pictures of speeding motorists and drivers running red lights in the District, officials said.

The audit is being conducted “to determine whether the contract was awarded in accordance with the District’s procurement regulations, and whether modifications to the photo-radar enforcement contract were made in accordance with [those] regulations,” according to the inspector general’s fiscal 2009 audit and inspection plan.

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), based in Scottsdale, Ariz., took over maintenance of the cameras in March of last year.

“We were informed by a District official of potential irregularities concerning the award of the contract for the photo-radar program,” the plan states.

The red-light program has brought the city nearly $47 million in fine revenue since its inception in 1999 through May, while the photo-radar program has brought in more than $150 million from speeders from August 2001 through the same month.

A draft of the inspector general’s audit has been completed, and a final report is expected to be issued early next month.

The probe focused on whether officials in the city’s Office of Contracting and Procurement properly evaluated proposals for the contract, whether the contract awarded was in a competitive range and whether officials kept proper records of the process on file.

The Office of Contracting and Procurement (OCP) is responsible for securing the contract, although the Metropolitan Police Department, which has authority over the automated enforcement programs, would have input in the camera contract as well.

William J. DiVello, the city’s assistant inspector general for audits, said the probe is part of his office’s “continuous coverage” of contracts considered to have “high-dollar value.”

He declined to discuss specific findings of the draft report, but noted that the District’s contracting procedures have been problematic in the past.

For example, an independent report included in the District’s Fiscal 2006 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report identified procurement problems in agencies like the OCP, the Child and Family Services Agency and the Department of Mental Health.

The report recommended that “closer oversight and monitoring controls be placed over contracting at the independent agencies.”

“Certainly, contracting and procurement is a problem that needs to be addressed in the city,” Mr. DiVello said.

OCP spokesman Briant Coleman said he could not comment on the audit because officials were drafting a response due next week to the inspector general.

The investigation follows a memo sent in March of last year by ATS to D.C. Council members showing that roughly half of the District’s red-light cameras were broken before the company began administering the program.

The cameras were managed previously by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which protested losing the camera contract to ATS with the city’s Contract Appeals Board. The board denied the appeal.

Officials repaired most of the nonworking red-light cameras within days, although ACS had disputed they were responsible for the nonfunctioning cameras.

There are red-light cameras at 49 locations throughout the District. The city has 12 photo-radar cameras affixed to vehicles and 10 stationary devices.

The investigation also comes amid news that a veteran MPD officer pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $180,000 from the department by submitting fraudulent time sheets saying she had worked more than 3,400 hours of overtime in the photo-radar program.

Karin Coppens, 49, pleaded guilty Friday and faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced in December.

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