- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Two D.C. Council members yesterday said the Metropolitan Police Department should reconsider its contract with a private company that repairs its police vehicles after a federal audit criticized the department's management of the contract.
"It looks to me like this fleet maintenance contract has a flat tire," said council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat.
"We need to change it. We need to open it up to bids," Mr. Brazil said. "We need to have an official who is at a fairly high level to run this thing and hold their feet to the fire."
Mr. Brazils comments were in response to a report in The Washington Times yesterday that said a General Services Administration audit had found that Serco Management Services Inc. was charging exorbitant rates for car repairs. The GSA audit also found that repairs were not properly documented, and Serco charged the police department $158,000 for repairs to old cars months before they were sold.
Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said the GSA audit shows how the city ends up paying more by hiring private contractors.
"Hiring private for-profit contract has not proved beneficial for the city," Mrs. Schwartz said.
She said the GSA finding of mismanagement by police department officials is another reason the city should not close D.C. General Hospital and contract out its health services for the poor. The council has opposed Mayor Anthony A. Williams plan to close the hospital and hire a private company to run smaller city clinics.
"You give it to a private company, and your costs will go up and up, and you are getting taken at every turn," Mrs. Schwartz said. "This fleet maintenance contract is a perfect example where contracting out services is hardly the panacea, and thats exactly why this council is trying to avoid the problem with our health care services."
Other council members did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Eric Coard, chief executive director of corporate support for the police department, did not return messages left at his office.
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 inspector generals auditors attributed the contracts high costs and undocumented charges mostly to poor management by department officials. The auditors found that a lack of "technically qualified" managers allowed a "situation that weakens the governments ability to control costs and the quality of work performed under the contract."
The audit was requested after The Times first reported in October that the police departments $3.5 million fleet maintenance contract had cost overruns of almost $900,000. The GSA inspector general said the overruns had escalated to $1,264,452 during last year.
Serco employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said department officials repeatedly were warned by Serco of management problems, but those warnings were unheeded and Serco followed the letter of the contract.
"It would take 10 minutes for them to to go through a stack of paperwork for approval. You knew no one was looking," said one employee.
"Most of the people in the police department were ignorant of how the contract was . It was like a kid in the candy store for us," said a former employee.

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