The District of Columbia could have saved at least $75,000 last September by purchasing 260 police cruisers through the federal General Services Administration and by getting compact cars, according to a report issued last week by the U.S. General Accounting Office.
Police and D.C. government officials said they were not sure the savings would have been that high, but they are considering the report's findings and may implemenet some of the GAO suggestions after they have been thoroughly tested.
D.C. police Insp. Roland W. Perry, director of the police department's office of financial management, said the department had already decided to order 60 compact cars this year to see how they perform in different urban police situations.
"We're getting a mixture of marked and unmarked cars," Perry said. "We want to see how they work out in patrol and in (unmarked situations.) If they work out in one place and not in the other, fine. But we're not going to go ahead and get all compacts without testing them under city conditions."
Perry said he thought most of the potential savings cited in the report would be in initial costs, perhaps at most $150 to $200 per vehicle, and not necessarily in gas and maintenance costs.
"You're not talking about an astromomical amount of money," he said.
"The GAO report said if the 260 cars bought last year had been purchased through GSA instead of on the open market, $23,660 could have been saved. If the cars purchased had been compacts instead of mid-sized cars, the report said, the savings would have been about $51,220 in acquisition, costs and $24,365 in first-year gasoline costs, a total of $75,585.
The city currently contracts to buy cars through the D.C. department of control services. Eugene L. Bennett, assistant director of material management for the agency, said, "The government of the District of Columbia does not buy identical vehicles to the ones bought by GSA for (federal) police purposes," making it difficult to compare the two.
Bennett pointed out that the markings and safety equipment on D.C. police vehicles differ significantly from those on U.S. Park Police or Executive Protective Service vehicles.
Bennet said purchases of police vehicles are routinely reviewed each year, and that the possibility of buying through GSA would be considered in the next purchase.
Frank Medico, assistant director of GAO, said the report came from a study of the city's total management of its motor vehicle fleet.
"If we see something that needs review, we don't wait," Medico said. "It came to out attention that the city is ordering 130 more police cars this year, and we want to help them save money where they can."