- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Serco Management Services Inc., a private contractor hired to manage the D.C. police departments fleet operations, has charged thousands of dollars worth of questionable repairs to the city, according to a new General Services Administration audit.
Some of the repair bills topped $4,000 for police cruisers scheduled to be sold at auctions for about $1,000.
The audit also found that Serco invoices for simple repairs seemed unusually high. Serco invoices show that the police department paid $56.08 to replace windshield wipers, $157.99 to replace a light bulb, $252.63 for an inspection, oil change and lubrication, $187.47 to replace a $36 battery, $186.55 to remove snow chains, $80.12 to replace a blown fuse and $1,940 for a front brake job and front-end alignment.
Some invoices showed the department was charged labor costs of up to 20 minutes to "walk around a car." Other invoices showed it took up to 24 minutes to top off the radiator, oil and windshield washer.
The GSA audit was critical of Metropolitan Police Department officials who allowed Serco to do repairs that should have been deferred repairs that, in some cases, exceeded the value of vehicles. The GSA said the police department could have saved money if it hired certified mechanics to monitor the $3.5 million Serco contract.
"A mechanic could help control costs by making decisions on what non-target repairs are absolutely necessary for the safe operations of the vehicle, but at the same time disapproving repairs that may be put off until a later time if the budget is running tight, " said Robert L. Hobson, audit manager for the GSA inspector general. "These type decisions would be made to manage costs to comply with the contract ceiling levels."
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance B. Gainer said yesterday that the department must improve its management of fleet services.
"When you repair a car in January that you plan to dump in June, it may seem to be shortsighted. But it may have been a good decision at the time, " Chief Gainer said.
"The chief has recognized that we need to continue to make improvements in the way we manage the fleet. Privatization alone is not the answer. We still need the right amount of midlevel management and a liaison between the sworn side of the house and operations. We fell short of that in the past."
The audit was requested by Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey after The Washington Times reported in October that the $3.5 million Serco contract had cost overruns of $900,000. The GSA found that the costs increased from $3.5 million to $4.8 million during 2000, which was an actual cost overrun of $1.3 million. Serco invoices reviewed by auditors showed that the departments 1996 and 1997 model cars, which were slated to be sold at auction for about $1,000 each, received repairs of up to $4,475 between February and December 2000. The police department has been replacing all of its cars that are 5 years old.
According to the audit, the police department paid $158,548 to repair 328 cars that were sold. More than $1,000 was spent on each of 40 of the old police cars, and $4,000 or more was spent on each of seven of the old cars.
The GSA said while Serco was repairing the older cars, new police cars sat unprepared and unused. Serco claimed its crews could stripe and install emergency equipment on only two cars per day.
"Promptly placing the new cars in service would not only yield savings from avoiding repairs to older cars they would replace, but also the MPD officers will benefit from the use of safer and more reliable equipment while on patrol," according to the audit.
The Times found last October that about 100 new police cars sat unused because the vehicles had not been prepared for service. More than 30 of those cars were found parked in an unsecured field in Southwest with tall grass growing into the cars axles.
The GSA faults the police departments upper management for failing to have qualified people overseeing the Serco contract. Since Serco came onto the scene, the police department has gone through a series of managers.
The former fleet manager, Robert Rose, and his boss, former business services manager Tom Burse, were suspended in September 1999 by Eric Coard, chief executive director of the corporate support, for failing to properly inspect police vehicles.
After an internal investigation, both Mr. Rose and Mr. Burse were exonerated when documents showed they had complained to Mr. Coard when the inspections and registrations were not completed.
Mr. Burse and Mr. Rose were reinstated and Mr. Coard received a minor reprimand.
Former Police Lt. Clarence Major replaced Mr. Rose as interim manager although he had no fleet experience. Then Claude Willis, a former D.C. Department of Public Works manager, was hired by Mr. Coard as manager in May 2000.
Mr. Willis was fired two months ago, and the department is now seeking a qualified fleet manager.

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