The agency charged with overseeing the city government’s vehicle fleet has flouted laws governing its operations for years, a draft report by the D.C. Council has found.
The Department of Public Works, which manages hundreds of cars and trucks for the city government, has not followed restrictions on purchases and leases of sport-utility vehicles and on restrictions on fuel economy, the report said.
Although 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 on Public Works and Transportation.
“The letter of the law has not been followed in a number of cases,” reads the report, which will be presented to the 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). The DPW declined to comment.
Before then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) gave the DPW the responsibility to manage the city’s fleet in 2000, individual city agencies had procured vehicles, leading to waste and abuse. The draft report acknowledged “some important strides” in the city’s fleet management, but it also identified several failings.
The D.C. Council moved to put additional curbs on vehicle procurement in 2002, prohibiting the purchase of SUVs, 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 higher.
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. And the preliminary report also indicated 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. That vehicle is now 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. Lew declined to comment.
What is clearer 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 said.
“I provided the vehicle the chairman requested,” said William O. Howland, DPW’s director, at a March hearing. “I determined that the chairman, in the event that the mayor becomes incapacitated, that . . . he would become mayor. And that, if necessary, he would need an emergency vehicle.”
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, which was paid in full. The second Lincoln, which was delivered after Brown had the first one returned because it did not have the dark interior he had ordered, was also returned, though an extended lease had been signed. Negotiations to settle the leases are ongoing, said a spokesman for the Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan.
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 school system identified 35 outstanding tickets, totaling $3,475, that cannot be connected to individuals.
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.