- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2000

The Metro board of directors is investigating the transit authority's contracting practices after The Washington Times inquired about a contractor who was paid more than $275,000 without the board's knowledge.

Top Metro officials sidestepped the transit authority's normal purchasing procedures in awarding a noncompetitive, $100,000 contract to Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle in October 1998, then more than tripling the contract's value without board approval, The Times has found.

"This was not an oversight… . This was not human error. It was deliberate," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, the Metro board member who called for the investigation.

"This is a most serious issue," the Ward 1 Democrat added. "This may involve the general manager and indeed some of the highest officials of this agency."

Mr. Graham said he was upset when The Times showed him documents indicating that Metro's own auditors had discouraged paying Mr. Lytle's $165-an-hour consulting fee because it was larger than those of most other consultants.

Metro board Chairman Gladys Mack said that Mr. Graham asked her to investigate the matter, and that she asked Metro General Manager Richard White on Friday for all the contracting documents and an explanation.

Yesterday, Mrs. Mack said she asked the general manager for a detailed report about personnel actions taken as a result of the investigation.

Mr. White said he terminated Mr. Lytle's contract last month after receiving inquiries from The Times and notified the board members of the contract. He said he found Mr. Lytle's contract excessive because the contractor was hired as a part-time consultant who was then tabbed to fill a full-time procurement manager's position all while retaining his consultant's fee. The budgeted salary for the full-time job was equal to about half the value of Mr. Lytle's contracted fee.

"It was an error in judgment when they transferred Mr. Lytle to an acting manager's position for that length of time," said Mr. White, adding that he did not know the total amount of the Lytle contract. He said he was also not aware the consultant was being paid $165 per hour.

Mr. White said some Metro employees have been verbally reprimanded but not punished for the contracting mix-up. He declined to identify those employees.

Mr. Lytle's no-bid contract was awarded by Assistant General Manager Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas after Mr. Lytle wrote a letter Sept. 30, 1998, welcoming Mr. Salpeas to Washington and offering to help him.

Within a month, Mr. Salpeas approved a $100,000 part-time consulting contract for Mr. Lytle, who Mr. Salpeas says is a procurement expert he has known for years.

The contract grew to $333,065 within a year and was never authorized by Mr. White or the Metro board.

Mr. White ended Mr. Lytle's contract on Jan. 14, the same day the general manager notified the board of the contract and after Metro had paid Mr. Lytle $276,540. From Oct. 1, 1998, through Jan. 21, Mr. Lytle took home an average of $18,436 per month from Metro's coffers.

Mr. White said a loophole in Metro's procurement rules allowed the contract's value to grow by more than 300 percent without the board's knowledge. He said the the loophole needs to be closed to prevent a recurrence of what he believes is an isolated incident.

Mr. Graham, who heads the Metro committee that oversees major construction projects, said he was upset to see the transit authority "waste" thousands of dollars on a contract after it had pleaded poverty in its reluctant funding of a weekend extended-hour program on subways.

Mr. Salpeas and procurement director Francis X. "Buddy" Watson requisitioned and approved the $165-an-hour contract, although other Metro workers said the consultant's services were worth at most $110 an hour.

Mr. Salpeas told The Times he needed Mr. Lytle to help draft construction contracts to build the Branch Avenue rail yard, adding that he wanted to hire Mr. Lytle immediately after reading his letter. He said he had the funds to pay Mr. Lytle but did not know how much the consultant was paid per hour or if it was out of line.

"I've known him for many years. He is a very respected man," Mr. Salpeas said.

Mr. Salpeas began working for Metro on Sept. 21, 1998 11 days before he put Mr. Lytle on Metro's payroll.

Mr. Lytle, 77, operates JRL Associates Inc., a Virginia consulting firm whose officers include himself, his wife and daughter. The company is run out of his home in the 8400 block of Brook Road in McLean.

He is a retired procurement manager with the former Urban Mass Transit Administration, now the Federal Transit Administration, which provides the bulk of Metro's construction budget, and worked as a consultant for FTA, said William Ellerman, a Metro procurement manager.

Mr. Lytle was out of town and did not return telephone calls made to his home.

Documents obtained by The Times show Mr. Lytle originally was hired part time for a year on Oct. 19, 1998. By June 6, 1999, eight months into Mr. Lytle's one-year contract, Metro already had paid him almost $100,000, and he continued to bill the transit authority.

Metro began reviewing the contract, and documents show that during that review, contract administrator Paul C. Farmer on July 7, 1999, balked at paying Mr. Lytle $165 per hour. He recommended Mr. Lytle be paid only $110 per hour since Mr. Lytle was using Metro's secretaries, offices and equipment.

The documents show that Mr. Lytle refused to take a pay cut and complained that the telephone and computer provided by Metro did not operate properly. Mr. Lytle also complained about his hourlong commute from his home to Metro's headquarters at 600 Fifth Street NW.

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