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D.C. Council bill to curb SUV abuses

Brown’s Navigator being returned

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2011

Neither D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray nor City Administrator Allen Y. Lew appears to have lost confidence in the District's public works chief despite a new report that calls "illegal" the leasing or purchase of several dozen SUVs, including one for Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown.

But two lawmakers will introduce legislation Tuesday calling for both the mayor and council to approve all vehicle leases following last week's revelation that Mr. Brown had gotten a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator.

While Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said Mr. Brown's Lincoln is being returned, that didn't stop the chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee from accusing the mayor of breaking the law.

In a preliminary review of Department of Public Works practices released Monday, committee Chairman Tommy Wells said Mr. Brown "inappropriately requested the city provide a Lincoln Navigator SUV, and the Executive appears to have violated D.C. law by providing it. It is contrary to D.C. law to lease or purchase a sport utility vehicle or a vehicle that achieves less than 22 miles per gallon, and the requested vehicle does not meet any of the statutory exceptions."

The Wells report said the city has leased or purchased dozens of SUVs in violation of the fuel-efficiency law, which took effect in 2000, and it highlights numerous fleet-management inefficiencies cited in an April 2010 report by the D.C. auditor, the council's investigative arm.

Committee member Harry Thomas Jr. said he, too, wants to delve into oversight of public works, especially its management and spending issues. But he criticized Mr. Wells for issuing a report on behalf committee members without their input.

"I think the [Wells] report was handled in an inappropriate process," said Mr. Thomas, one of five committee members. "How can a report be released without committee input? This may be a violation of council rules."

"We can't get so distracted we don't look at the whole agency," he added. "Public works includes an extraordinary range of programs and policies. How are we investing the city's money?"

Council members Jack Evans and Sekou Biddle said their new bill, the Automobile Lease, Procurement, and Disposal Reform Act, will mandate an annual accounting of all D.C. government vehicles.

"We are determined to phase out all District leased vehicles that are not essential for daily work-related activities," said council member Jack Evans, who introduced a new bill with council member Sekou Biddle. "This legislation will require a clear justification for the use of any and all vehicles leased by the city."

Sources close to the SUV flap, first reported by The Washington Post, said the mayor has not lost confidence in Public Works Director Bill Howland, a Fenty administration holdover.

"The recent inquiries into official use of government vehicles is timely and warranted," Mr. Lew said Monday evening. "As Mayor Gray indicated during his press conference last week, we will ensure that all current laws and regulations are followed."

Mr. Lew also said fleet-management laws are "fairly clear" and that he will not make "arbitrary, snap decisions" about the parties involved.

"While much of the activity in question predates the 55-day-old Gray administration, I am committed to making sure that the issues are resolved and that going forward, District staff is properly trained on the laws and regulations," Mr. Lew said.

A special oversight hearing on fleet management is scheduled for March 17.

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