- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

A District of Columbia Council member last night challenged the Department of Public Works (DPW) to assume responsibility for overseeing the city's fleet of vehicles.

"DPW, if you're going to be in charge of all the fleet, you've got to set the example," Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, told agency leaders during a public hearing. "Government needs vehicles, but they don't need to be the plushest, biggest gas guzzlers."

Mrs. Schwartz specifically referred to a report in yesterday's edition of The Washington Times that the city has collected more than 300 sport utility vehicles (SUVs), many of which are seldom used.

She also noted The Times reported that many vehicles used by city managers have been equipped with luxury features, such as the 1999 Ford Explorer used by DPW Director Vanessa Dale Burns. It has chrome wheels, raised white letter tires, running boards and a rear-window wiper.

Mrs. Schwartz has proposed legislation that would consolidate management of the city's fleet and prevent the city from paying more than necessary for vehicles.

"We need to change," she said, citing the city's vehicle inventory of a 1977 Chevrolet Nova with only 32,000 miles on it as an example of DPW's inefficiency. "The people that need the equipment, we must see they have it."

Miss Burns yesterday said her department has taken measures to do just that.

A trio of city officials are targeting government managers who want to keep city-owned vehicles for their personal use or hoard a small fleet for their agencies. The officials are working to better consolidate the city's ever-growing collection of vehicles under a single agency the DPW.

Ronald Flowers, administrator of DPW's Fleet Services Division, and Bob Utiger, the city administrator's director of the Office of Operations Improvements, are heading the consolidation effort. And Norman S. Dong, deputy mayor for operations, is backing them.

The trio is planning a "roundup," beginning June 24, to seize little-used city vehicles, including those that sit parked most of the time in spaces marked "Reserved for Director."

Their aim is to control the number and cost of the ever-growing but little-used fleet, which is filled with expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs and cars with luxury options.

"People don't want to give up their vehicles," Miss Burns noted during the hearing.

Mrs. Schwartz said the cars belong to the taxpayers and a "leaner" fleet is needed.

"The ones we own, we should probably keep. We're going to need fewer vehicles. These are the government's vehicles," she said. "It's not an entitlement … and the problem is when people think of it as an entitlement."

Mr. Flowers said in an interview after the hearing that he understands the council's and the public's frustration over the city's handling of its vehicles.

"We have to be sensitive to those issues," he said. "It's perception. We have to strike that balance that meets the needs of the worker … and spending money the most efficient way."

Mr. Dong said desk-bound managers, like himself, seldom need cars but when they do, they can use one from a pool of cars. Departmental pools will be set up so that vehicles no longer are assigned to individuals and can be used by all city workers, he said.

"Inspectors need constant access to cars. They have heavy usage," Mr. Dong said. "I don't need a car dedicated to me.

"We need to look at a system like the federal government's, which uses motor pools," he said.

He said the city has been surveying use and will be able to identify whether managers or supervisors working in the field need a vehicle assigned to them. If no need is found, the managers lose the car keys and have to begin using pool cars.

According to the plan, managers will get midsized or compact vehicles not SUVs. The majority of the vehicles will be distributed to employees who work in the field and to motor pools.

Employees who rarely venture from the office will use mass transit, a shuttle, pool car or walk.

A DPW survey shows that of 17 city agencies excluding police and fire departments and public schools the average annual usage per vehicle is less than 10,000 miles. Nine of those agencies annually drove vehicles less than 5,000 miles a year.

The Times also has found that the city lacked any controls over purchasing and maintaining its fleet of vehicles.

The consolidation effort does not include police and fire department or public school vehicles, although those departments can voluntarily join in the fleet consolidation plan.

Mr. Flowers said the city has wasted money by not purchasing large numbers of vehicles in bulk. He said that under the consolidated fleet system one type of vehicle will be ordered in bulk.

Recently, he said, city officials have begun working with the Government Services Agency so that they can get reduced prices on vehicles.

"I don't need Fords, Chevrolets, Fleetlines, Internationals. We need one model. It is too expensive to keep parts and train people to work on all of that," Mr. Flowers said.

He said that during the four roundups planned between June 24 and July 29, he will be able to inspect vehicles for road worthiness and seize any "clunkers" or seldom-used vehicles.

During the roundup, vehicles will be taken to the Fleet Services Division at 1833 West Virginia Ave. NE.

He said the city will sell older cars and place the rest in a motor pool.

"We will take away [from] the ones who don't need them and give them to the agencies that do," Mr. Flowers said. "It will be a more efficient usage."

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