- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A newly formed D.C. agency that consolidates the city’s capital projects and maintenance duties under one roof should benefit the District financially, but its team must act quickly to justify the faith of city legislators who stepped “out on a limb” in support of the endeavor, council members said Tuesday.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray created the D.C. Department of General Services for fiscal year 2012, which began Oct. 1. The massive new city agency, with a $354 million operating budget and a project portfolio of about $2 billion for the six-year capital budget, take over the duties of the Department of Real Estate Services, Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM) and the Municipal Facilities: Non-Capital agency, as well as construction and real estate management duties from other city agencies.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown likened the agency to a multimillion-dollar company, with the D.C. Council as its board of directors and city taxpayers as its shareholders.

City Administrator Allen Lew told Mr. Brown’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday that the prior system let facility maintenance languish and spread duties among multiple entities, creating “inefficiencies and redundancies.”

“We’re not looking to go backward, we’re looking to go forward,” Mr. Lew said.

Mr. Lew testified the agency will be implementing its new structure over the coming months and be finished by the last quarter of the fiscal year.

Brian J. Hanlon, the interim director of the Department of Real Services, has been picked to lead DGS on an interim basis.

“The Department of General Services is 10 days old and this is only our second week of operations,” he told the committee. “Our first mission during these early days is to ensure that services are provided without any disruption.”

Mr. Hanlon said the agency is ready to transmit major contracts to the council in the coming weeks, including design and build contracts for Dunbar and Cardozo high schools and Turner Elementary School.

He also pledged to maintain the city’s properties, a key concern that Mr. Brown returned to throughout the hearing.

“Kicking the can down the road is not a viable solution,” Mr. Hanlon said.

D.C. Council members used part of Tuesday’s hearing to find out if DGS was ready to implement the cost-cutting scheme it promises.

Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said he supports the concept behind the agency “because the mayor supports it,” but he is not convinced there has been enough planning to ensure a smooth transition.

“I hope that this works, I pray that it works,” Mr. Barry said.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, said she hopes DGS is not too top-heavy — high-level employees have been retained from consolidated agencies, albeit with different titles — as it tries to realize savings in this fiscal year.

“Every day we get into the fiscal year, it becomes less and less easy to achieve those savings,” Ms. Bowser said.

Mr. Brown said he reduced the agency’s budget by $4 million during the budget process, yet he hopes the agency will save funds through its contract process and more efficient operations.

After the hearing, Mr. Lew said there should be more maintenance jobs than before because of “years and years” of deferred work. Any belt-tightening, he said, would likely occur among senior-level positions.

He feels confident that DGS will meet its implementation benchmarks for the coming year.

“We’ll do it,” he said.

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