- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

The Metropolitan Police Department has not tapped a donated cache of 3,500 gallons of motor oil for more than a year and instead has bought oil under a mismanaged $3.5 million car maintenance contract.
In August 1999, Mobil Corp. now Exxon Mobil Corp. gave the police department $51,000 worth of its premier synthetic product, Mobil 1, to use in oil changes for police vehicles, a company spokesman said.
But Serco, the car maintenance company with whom the department contracted in November, bought its own oil and charged the department for it, instead of using the existing inventory as stipulated in the contract.
District of Columbia Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, is inquiring about the unused oil and other problems in the police department's fleet-maintenance contract, which exceeded its budget by nearly $900,000 last fiscal year.
Mr. Brazil, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing today at 3:30 p.m. to investigate the cost overrun.
The Washington Times first reported last week that the police department had overspent its car maintenance contract, which it had entered to save money and replace department workers who had maintained the vehicles. Chief Charles H. Ramsey told The Times the contract had been mismanaged.
Repairs to old vehicles were deferred, while more than 100 new police cars sat unused for more than 45 days in a field and in warehouses because the department could not afford to have radios, sirens, light bars and striping installed.
Police sources said 25 new marked police cruisers are available right now, but fleet maintenance has not developed a plan to put them on the streets.
"I want to know why [the police department] went astray and what they are doing to prevent other cost overruns," Mr. Brazil said. "We have got to protect the taxpayers' dollars."
Eric Coard, the police department's director of corporate support services, said the donated Mobil 1 oil was being used to "top off" vehicles with low oil levels instead of for full oil changes.
Police sources said it would take years for that amount of oil to be used for topping off.
The 3,500 gallons of Mobil 1, if used at a rate of five quarts per oil change, could change the oil in every car in the police department's 1,400 vehicle fleet twice.
The contract directs Serco to use the existing inventory without charging the department: "Items from MPD-owned inventory will be utilized and will not be re-billed to the MPD."
Mr. Coard did not order Serco to use the donated motor oil even though internal documents obtained by The Times show he knew the contract was being overspent in February, when he ordered that some repairs on police cars be suspended.
Cost overruns continued, forcing Serco to lay off mechanics and threaten to shut down its shop before the department provided more money for less service.
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said Mr. Coard told him the donated oil had not been used because it wasn't enough to complete oil changes.
"I told Eric we ought to see that the Mobile 1 was depleted," Chief Gainer said. "I asked that very question and was told that if Serco used that oil to do the cars, it would only be about two weeks worth of oil."
The chief said he was surprised to learn that the 3,500 gallons is enough to keep the fleet in oil changes for six months. "I guess your numbers are better than ours," Chief Gainer said.
Serco manager Dave Tetreault has said he cannot comment on the contract or its cost overrun.
Donald Turk, a public affairs manager for Exxon Mobil Corp., said Mobil first donated motor oil to the police department in 1997 during the height of the city's budget crisis. It subsequently donated the oil that is sitting unused in a warehouse.
"We gave it to them to use as their program would dictate, that is not for us to second-guess," Mr. Turk said. "This is good oil. It is still good for them to use."

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