- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2000

A Metro assistant general manager approved a $333,000 consultant's contract without the knowledge of the Board of Directors or the general manager after only 11 days on the job.

Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas, assistant general manager for Transit System Development, hired consultant Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle in October 1998 in a noncompetitive, $100,000 contract that later increased to $333,000.

The Metro Board began investigating the matter last month after receiving inquiries from The Washington Times.

Mr. Salpeas, 49, apparently violated no rules because, under Metro's procurement regulations, the consultant's contract could have been increased without limit.

"They could increase it to a trillion dollars," William Ellerman, Metro procurement manager, told The Times.

The procurement regulations allow Metro officials to increase a contract's value in increments equal to its original value as long as funds from Metro's capital improvement budget are used. Such increases do not have to be cleared by the Metro Board or General Manager Richard White.

Mr. White told The Times that some Metro workers had been verbally reprimanded but not punished in the matter. He declined to identify those employees.

The Metro Board could decide on punishments after its investigation.

Metro Board Chairman Gladys Mack and D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and Metro Board member, are seeking to close the so-called "loophole" in the procurement rules that permitted the contracting mix-up.

Mr. White ended Mr. Lytle's contract on Jan. 14 after The Times inquired about it. By then, Metro had paid Mr. Lytle $276,540 on a $333,065 contract that originally had been awarded for only $100,000.

Mr. Salpeas, who earns $141,000 a year as head of Metro's rail construction programs, told The Times he hired Mr. Lytle to help draft construction contracts to build the Branch Avenue rail yard.

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

But he added that he did not know how much the consultant was paid per hour or if it was out of line when he requisitioned and approved Mr. Lytle's $165-an-hour contract.

In fact, Mr. Lytle, who normally earned about $2,300 a month, provided little justification to Metro to be paid more than $18,000 a month by the transit authority, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Mr. Lytle yesterday declined to comment on the contract and his past income. He refused to say if the documents he provided to Metro documented all of the work he has done since 1995.

"I would not want to comment," he said. "I have had many, many [contracts] over the last 15 years. I would really prefer not to comment. They have all the business records."

Yet documents show that Mr. Lytle provided limited documentation to justify his $165-per-hour fee and the records he did provide appear to be for only one contract he had held since Nov. 30, 1995.

Between the November 1995 start date of that contract and Sept. 1, 1998 a total of 34 months Mr. Lytle was paid $79,866, averaging $2,349 a month, as a consultant.

Mr. Salpeas, who had begun working for Metro on Sept. 21, 1998, hired Mr. Lytle on Oct. 1, 1998.

Metro audit manager William T. Raymond said the transit authority should negotiate an hourly rate below $162 per hour in an Oct. 30, 1998, memo, noting that Mr. Lytle could not justify his costs.

What's more, he said Mr. Lytle refused to provide corporate income tax records and other documentation to prove his costs, adding that Mr. Lytle was "very secretive."

"We consider Mr. Lytle's refusal to provide normal financial records for our audit review to be highly irregular," Mr. Raymond said in the memo.

Still, Metro continued to pay on the contract because Mr. Lytle refused to work for less and Mr. Salpeas considered the contract to be necessary, said Mr. Ellerman, the procurement manager.

In an Oct. 8, 1998, letter to Mr. Ellerman, Mr. Lytle flatly stated he charges $165 per hour, which include his costs for transportation, equipment, overhead and profit.

However, Mr. Lytle worked in Metro's offices and used Metro equipment and personnel, said a Metro employee familiar with the contract.

Metro contracting officer Paul C. Farmer recommended in a July 7 meeting with Mr. Lytle that the hourly fee be reduced to $110 per hour since Metro was paying for Mr. Lytle's overhead.

Mr. Lytle complained that he had to commute to work each day and that the telephone and computer in his office at Metro did not work properly.

Richard W. Beebe, Metro contract administrator, said in his recommendation that despite Mr. Farmer's concerns, Mr. Lytle will continue to be paid $165 per hour because Mr. Salpeas and Assistant General Manager Gail Charles determined Mr. Lytle's work was "essential."

Before joining Metro, Mr. Salpeas had been head of rail construction for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco since 1991. He was hired by Metro's Mr. White, who was the general manager of BART before coming to Metro in 1996.

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