Taxpayers fund drivers for 3 D.C. agency heads

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Three leaders of District agencies use taxpayer-funded chauffeurs to traverse the city during their workdays, a report by D.C. Department of Public Works shows.

According to the review, completed last month, the heads of the Department of Mental Health, DC Public Schools and the Office on Aging have drivers, though none is driven between home and work.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray, defended the officials' use of drivers.

"Those agencies all have one thing in common, which is facilities spread geographically across the District, and that requires their senior team to be able to go from one place to another," Ribeiro told The Washington Examiner.

But Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who chairs the council's transportation committee, questioned whether those officials merited access to drivers.

"It certainly seems like there are others who might have more of a need," Cheh said.

District law permits city workers to use chauffeurs with Gray's permission, though the report shows most top leaders -- including high-profile officials like Police Chief Cathy Lanier, City Administrator Allen Lew and Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi -- don't have drivers.

Gray has a chauffeur, though the driver is a member of his 24-hour security detail from the Metropolitan Police Department, in an arrangement similar to those of previous mayors.

Eighteen agencies did not respond to the Department of Public Works' request for information, including the University of the District of Columbia, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, and the Office of Campaign Finance.

The quarterly reports received renewed attention after the D.C. Council's 2011 investigation into the demands of its then-chairman, Kwame Brown, for a "fully loaded" Lincoln Navigator SUV.

Brown, who has a well-known passion for automobiles, drew widespread ire for requesting a vehicle replete with a power moonroof and an entertainment system and then rejecting the first choice because it didn't have a "black-on-black" interior.

A council report later found that Brown had "inappropriately requested" the vehicle and that the city appeared "to have violated D.C. law by providing it."

The same investigation also found that "some agency and department directors are provided not only with vehicles for their use during the day, but agency staff serve as dedicated drivers of the vehicles."

Cheh said last week that she thought lawmakers were still receiving incomplete information from the executive branch about the use of chauffeurs because the agencies didn't disclose the expenses associated with using drivers, as required by law.

"This is not the kind of accountability and oversight that we anticipated," Cheh said. "We wanted to see the costs. ... Apparently, the law is not being followed."

Cheh said she plans to raise the matter next month at an oversight hearing.

Ribeiro defended the policy, though, and said drivers for agency leaders often perform other duties, including handling deliveries between department offices.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner