The agency charged with overseeing the city government’s vehicle fleet has flouted laws governing its operations for years, a draft D.C. Council report has found.
The Department of Public Works, which manages hundreds of cars and trucks for the city government, has not followed restrictions on the purchase or lease of sport-utility vehicles and restrictions on fuel economy, the report says.
While a decade-old mayoral order gives DPW “sole authority” over all non-emergency city vehicles, it was unable to account for at least 230 vehicles in use by four city agencies polled by the committee.
“The letter of the law has not been followed in a number of cases,” reads the report, which will be presented to the council’s Public Works and Transportation committee Tuesday. “The spirit of the law has similarly been ignored, which impacts our commitment to good government and significantly undermines this government’s credibility with the public.”
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) initiated the probe after a Washington Post article revealed that DPW officials had ordered a pair of luxury Lincoln Navigator SUVs for the use of Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D).
Before Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) gave the DPW the responsibility to manage the city’s vehicle fleet in 2000, individual city agencies has procured vehicles, leading to widespread waste and abuse. The draft report acknowledges “some important strides” in the city’s fleet management. But it also identifies several failings.
The D.C. Council moved to put additional curbs on vehicle procurement in 2002, prohibiting the purchase of sport-utility vehicles, with exceptions for “security, emergency rescue, snow removal or armored vehicles.” It also required most passenger vehicles to meet fuel economy standards of 22 miles per gallon or more.
But according to data compiled by the council, “the overwhelming majority” of city fleet vehicles “regularly failed” to meet that standard. Only about 11 percent, in fact, were in compliance, the investigation found.
The draft report also indicates that city agencies have purchased or leased several vehicles not defensible under the law.
For instance, the city’s Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization has six SUVs, including a brand-new Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. That vehicle is being used by City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, who used to helm the office, under what he described to the council as a “loan.”
“[H]ow such a loan works or is accounted for is unclear,” the report notes.
More clear is that Brown’s demand for a “black-on-black SUV” ran afoul of D.C. regulations holding that government vehicles must be of “maximum fuel efficiency and minimum body size, engine size, and equipment necessary to fulfill operational needs.”
If an agency desires anything larger than a compact sedan, its director must explain in writing why it is “essential to the agency’s mission.” But in the case of Brown’s Navigators, as well as a Navigator and Lincoln Town Car leased for the mayor, no written explanation was ever provided, the report says.
While procuring Brown’s Navigators, the city also ignored a prohibition on paying month-to-month leases in advance. A leasing company billed the city $17,669 for a nine-month lease of the first Navigator, and it was paid in full. The city is trying to recover the balance on the vehicle, which was returned last month.
The second Lincoln was delivered after Brown had the first one returned because it did not have the dark interior he had ordered.
The report also faults the department’s management of traffic and parking tickets. The city is generally unable to track who is using particular cars at particular times, meaning that employees often aren’t held accountable for the fines they incur.
For instance, the D.C. Public Schools identified 35 outstanding tickets, totaling $3,475, that cannot be connected to particular employees.
The report recommends that the public works department adhere more strictly to the laws governing SUVs and fuel efficiency. It also suggests that the council ban the purchase or lease of luxury vehicles or vehicles with nonstandard options.
The full preliminary report: