- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

Top officials in the Metropolitan Police Department were aware as early as February that its costs in a $3.5 million car maintenance contract had skyrocketed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

The department hired Serco in November to cut its car maintenance costs. The company billed the police department nearly $900,000 over its budget, racking up unnecessary charges for minor repairs instead of performing only major body work, police officials have said.

Internal police documents show that Eric Coard, director of the department’s corporate support services, suspended some services provided by Serco to control spending.

Despite those cost-cutting measures, the budget overrun approached $900,000, and work on repairing old police cars and readying new ones for the road was stopped.

Before Serco was hired, department employees repaired police vehicles.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said city services that are privatized must cost at least 5 percent less than having city employees do the same work.

Mrs. Patterson said Wednesday she would ask the city’s procurement office to investigate the contract.

The budget overrun consumed funds for repairing older police cars and for putting into service new vehicles in need of decals, light bars and radios.

“The contract was underfunded from the start,” Mr. Coard said. “There were a whole list of problems we had to deal with. There were pre-existing conditions of the fleet. They did not have an accurate base line to start with because the previous fleet [crews] did not do a lot of the same work.”

Mr. Coard said he hopes there will be no similar cost problems this year. “We are going to put in some cost controls and closely monitor the contract.”

Serco manager Dave Tetreault has said he cannot comment on the contract or its cost overrun.

Documents show that police officials did not address problems with Serco over the last eight months. Officials negotiated paying the company more money and receiving less service.

A May 19 memo from fleet services manager Claude Willis shows the department proposed that Serco “provide maintenance services at a reduced level for an additional $850,000 through Aug. 31.”

Serco was allowed to make fewer repairs, perform less maintenance and not do full preventive maintenance on vehicles.

“This action defeats much of the vehicle improvements originally envisioned for outsourcing,” Mr. Willis said in the memo.

He said reducing maintenance would only defer costs to the next year and would require police employees to do some of the work contracted to Serco.

Mr. Willis, who said he did not become manager of the department until May, said he could not comment and referred all questions to the police press information office.

The memo notes that the additional money would pay Serco for readying new police cars for service, but The Times has found new cars stored in several places around the city, including an unsecured field behind the police academy.

A May 25 memo to Ray Bergeron, Serco’s vice president of fleet services, shows the company cut its staff by 50 percent, police workers would be used to transport vehicles and major repairs would not be performed on vehicles older than 1997 models.

That memo also shows Serco’s staffing level, with the company employing 37 workers for police cars. Of those positions, 11 are administrative jobs.

In an Aug. 18 memo to Mr. Bergeron, Mr. Tetreault said he has yet to receive additional funding from the police department and was anticipating having to stop work.

In the memo, copies of which were sent to Mr. Willis and Mr. Coard, Mr. Tetreault said he would have to lay off mechanics on Sept. 1 the second layoff in four months.

“On Sept. 1 the shop will be closed. Repair work will not be performed and parts and supplies will not be issued,” the memo said.

Serco was given additional money Aug. 29, when Mr. Tetreault reported to Mr. Willis in a memo that he had an additional $150,000 for Serco to continue working on normal repairs through the end of September.

Mr. Coard and Brender Gregory, director of the police department’s business services, said the contract’s major problem was that workers did not properly oversee it.

Three department mechanics assigned as contract compliance monitors were never allowed to do the job. Carlos Edwards, Jim Gately and Skip Rodke were assigned to other duties and the city’s hiring freeze prevented employing anyone else to monitor the contract, an internal police report dated May 19 shows.

“It says I’m a compliance monitor on my [pay] check, but they would not let us do the work,” said Mr. Edwards, who maintains vehicles at the 6th Police District.

Mr. Coard said other people had been monitoring the contracts.

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