The D.C. government is passing up hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in revenue by selling used emergency vehicles for "bargain basement prices" in auctions run by untrained staffers, the Inspector General's Office found in a report released this week.
The city's Office of Contracting and Procurement is responsible for disposing of excessive city property through its personal property division.
In a 21/2-year period studied by analysts in the Inspector General's Office, the city sold 11 firetrucks for a total of $3,125. Analysts found similar vehicles in make and model that had been sold on the Internet for a total of $360,875.
For example, one firetruck, a 1993 KME Pumper, was sold by the city for $25, while a similar one was sold on the Internet for $80,000, the report found. The same pattern existed for 38 other emergency vehicles sold by the city.
"There are few controls in place to ensure the integrity of the disposal process," says the review, directed by Austin A. Andersen, interim inspector general. Furthermore, the report notes that the city's auctioneer is untrained even though the contracting office agreed to provide training after a report by the city auditor in 2000 raised similar concerns.
"We're definitely taking the IG report seriously, both its findings and recommendations," said Sharon K. Gang, a spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). She said that Williams and City Administrator Robert C. Bobb are reviewing the report.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) has been critical of Chief Procurement Officer Jacques Abadie III and his department.
An audit last year by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer confirmed reports that city employees made hundreds of impermissible purchases with government credit cards issued by the contracting office and failed to submit receipts for thousands of purchases.
Abadie's department was also criticized by council members for problems over a contract to operate the city's animal shelter. The contract was first awarded to a Canadian company but later rescinded by Williams after the firm's competence was questioned.
"There needs to be a complete overhaul in the leadership of the Office of Contracting and Procurement," Orange said. "Every two or three months, it seems like another incident comes to the forefront. . . . It's outrageous they sell a fire engine for $25. It speaks to leadership. There's no one there that is really protecting and safeguarding the process."
Abadie was out of town yesterday, and a spokeswoman said that he could not be reached.
In a written response that was included in the report, Abadie agreed with several findings and agreed to make changes, including exploring other ways of disposing of city property, such as using the Internet.
But he took issue with some of the conclusions, noting that fire and emergency management officials have said that "a very high percentage of the vehicles . . . are either stripped or will require major maintenance and/or repairs."
William J. DiVello, the city's assistant inspector general for audits, said that although individual vehicles may have varied in condition, the report found a consistent pattern of underpricing property.
All told, the city spent $1.50 to dispose of every $1 of property, DiVello said. Abadie disputed that in his written response, saying the cost to the city was 65 cents.
"We determined the cost of the whole operation, and they need to reevaluate it," DiVello said. "It does not hold water to sell [a firetruck] for $25 when people are willing to pay $50 to $100 just for a tire alone."
The report does not say who bought the emergency vehicles. The contracting office's spokeswoman would not comment on that.
Asked whether employees of the contracting office may have been selling the property at low prices to people who could then profit by reselling them, DiVello and Andersen said that no conclusions have been drawn. The investigations unit of the Inspector General's Office is still looking into the transactions, they said.
"I would like to see who actually is purchasing these items and whether there is a relationship to anyone in OCP and whether any kickbacks are in place," Orange said.