The D.C. government recently rejected low bids from the Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. for 90 new police cars in favor of a substantially higher bid from a Washington dealership, Curtis Chevrolet, that will cost the city an extra $134,387.
Representatives of Ford and Chrysler have protested the decision to the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), claiming that the city violated its own procurement regulations and rules for soliciting competitive contract bids.
The decision also was questioned by Rep. Stanford E. Parris (R-Va.), a member of the House District of Columbia Committee, who yesterday urged Mayor Marion Barry to delay awarding the contract until the GAO has reviewed the case and made a recommendation.
However, an aide to Barry said that the decision to award the contract to Curtis Chevrolet had been reviewed by the city's contract review committee and that the mayor "is not going to involve himself in it."
"The question of service and the cost of spare parts was the critical question," the aide added.
On the strength of a recommendation by Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., the D.C. Department of General Services bypassed the Ford and Chrysler bids and offered the contract to Curtis Chevrolet on April 14.
Ford had offered to sell the city 52 eight-cylinder sedans for $6,658 apiece and 30 six-cyclinder sedans for $6,375 each, and Chrysler offered eight station wagons for $6,740 each. By comparison, Curtis Chevrolet sought $8,070 apiece for the eight-cylinder sedans, $7,830 apiece for the six-cylinder sedans and $8,900 for each station wagon.
Turner said in an April 4 memorandum to the General Services Deparment that the police department has had numerous problems with 135 Ford Fairmonts it purchased last year, including poor wheel alignment that caused tires to wear out quickly and a defect in the power steering system that "could jeopardize the safety of our officers."
"It is unknown how long Ford will continue to repair failed units," Turner said. "When the goodwill repairs cease, the cost to the city will far outweigh any initial savings at the time of purchase. . . . It does not take any long-range life cycle cost analysis to determine the unsuitability of the Fairmont for our use."
Regarding the Chrysler bid, Turner argued that Chrysler cars were more expensive to maintain and had a lower mileage rating than Chevrolets. Also, he claimed that other jurisdictions have had problems with Chrysler vehicles, although he acknowledged that, "We have not had personal mechanical experiences with the new Chrysler products."
In recommending that the contract be awarded to Curtis Chevrolet, 5929 Georgia Ave. NW, Turner said that the department could establish a close working relationship with a local dealer, instead of having to work through a manufacturer's representative who might be less responsive.
"A local dealer who sells vehicles to the D.C. government would become personally obligated to ensure that his customer is satisfied," Turner said.
But Parris and representatives of Ford and Chrysler contend that the city has failed to provide an adequate justification for shortcircuiting its competitive bidding process after having invited bids.
"In a period when all expenditures of the District of Columbia government are being closely monitored, awards on any advertised bid to other than the low bidder must be fully justified by irrefutable facts," Parris said in a letter to Barry. "It is somewhat difficult to understand as to how two experienced bidders, Ford and Chrysler, could both be deemed nonresponsive by the [D.C.] Bureau of Material Management."
Officials of Chrysler (which also competed for the contract for the 82 sedans, submitting the second-lowest bid) said they were baffled why the D.C. government even bothered to advertise for bids if officials already had ruled out Chrysler and Ford products.
"When the government of the District of Columbia . . . wishes to buy a specific brand name product, the procurement should be handled more correctly on a negotiated and proprietary purchase arrangement, rather than the facade of a formally advertised bid which results in an outright breach of the procurement regulations and the integrity of the advertised bid system," said Frank R. Henderson, Chrysler's director of government vehicles sales in Washington.
In defending his company's bid, Henderson said that 23,000 Chrysler cars have been sold this year to police departments around the country, including those in Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, New York and Philadelphia.
A spokesman for Ford Motor said his company has "stood by its product" in the past and agreed to correct any problems with its products encountered by the D.C. police department. He said Turner's complaints about the 1981-model Ford Fairmont had "blurred" the overriding issue of the integrity of the bidding process.
John Carter, an attorney with the GAO, said his agency would issue recommendations in the case after it has received a formal explanation from the city. In cases of this sort, the GAO acts as a mediator rather than trying to impose a decision, according to Carter.