Report critical of Kwame Brown's wheels - and those of others

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 10:53 AM

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown "inappropriately requested" a Lincoln Navigator and District officials violated the law by leasing the luxury SUV, according to a council report released Monday that raises new questions about how some local leaders may be getting around the city.

The report, issued by the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, concludes that Brown (D) requested the SUV despite a 2004 city law that prohibits the leasing or buying of city vehicles that get fewer than 22 miles per gallon. According to the Web site for Navigator, the SUV gets 14 miles a gallon in city driving and 20 miles a gallon on the highway.

The committee found that the Department of Public Works, which is in charge of the city's non-emergency fleet program, disregarded the law in Brown's case and in the acquisition of dozens of other vehicles in recent years. DPW has purchased or leased at least 28 SUVs since 2004 for District employees for reasons "not related to security" or emergency response, the report stated.

But Bill Howland, the director of the Department of Public Works under both the current and former mayors, disputed that his agency was unaware of the law or not abiding by it. He noted that the fuel efficiency requirement allows for exceptions for "snow and emergencies."

The council report also raised questions about whether taxpayers have been paying for some agency heads and senior government officials to be chauffeured by city employees. District law states that "no D.C. government employee is allowed to serve as a driver or chauffeur of another D.C. government employee, except the Mayor," unless written authorization is provided, according to the report.

"It appears that the laws and regulations of the District have not been followed as it relates to SUVs, fuel efficiency, authorized use, authorized drivers, and overall fleet management," the report concludes.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that city officials were asked to lease a "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator L for Brown at a cost of about $2,000 a month. The ensuing uproar led Brown to say he is returning the luxury sport-utility vehicle, although it is unclear whether the city can cancel its lease early.

The leasing controversy has battered Brown's public image. On Thursday, he was booed by some while trying to speak at a fundraiser at the Kennedy Center for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, according some people who attended.

Brown was unavailable for comment Monday. But he issued a statement praising council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, for looking into how the city leases vehicles.

"I agree that the procurement process requires a top to bottom review, and trust that the committee will make the necessary recommendations for changes when the final report is issued," he said.

Brown is not the only city official whose vehicle could face scrutiny. The 2010 Lincoln Navigator L that the D.C. police leased as Gray's vehicle also is "fully loaded," according to a purchase order. The vehicle, which leases for $1,941 a month, includes a "navigation system" and "entertainment system."

In an e-mail, police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the vehicle is comparable to those used by previous mayors.

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