Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Washington Post Story on the FED's skipping out on parking tickets

Federal Parking Fines Go Unpaid
Military, FBI Top the List, Report Finds

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008; B01

The FBI and U.S. Armed Forces are institutions in which following the rules is supposed to be a given.

Except when it comes to paying their parking tickets.

According to a congressional report scheduled to be released today, federal workers in the District and New York City failed to pay $176,000 in fines for 1,147 tickets issued last year to their U.S. government vehicles.

Leading the way in the District were the Army, Navy and Air Force, whose employees ignored 158 tickets for $28,000 in 2007. Most were racked up by recruiters working at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center near 13th and L streets NW.

In New York, FBI agents set the worst example, accumulating $35,000 in fines and comfortably besting the Department of State ($28,000) and the Marine Corps ($20,000) in unpaid violations.

Almost half of the citations were issued during morning and evening rushes, increasing congestion and creating safety hazards, the report concludes. Other violations included parking on sidewalks, in handicapped zones and in front of fire hydrants and bus stops. Only 6 percent were for expired meters.

The report was done by the majority staff of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure at the request of the panel's chairman, Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) It faults "lax fleet management practices" that enable many workers to ignore fines.

In a statement, Oberstar said: "Without sufficient oversight by management, illegal parking by government employees will continue to compromise mobility, create unsafe conditions for pedestrians and other drivers, and obstruct emergency vehicles in urban centers across the nation."

At least one agency put the blame elsewhere.

"Parking in New York City is a huge problem," Monica McLean, spokeswoman for the FBI's New York field office, said yesterday. "Unfortunately, parking facilities do not exist for a majority of FBI vehicles assigned to our division."

Tell it to the judge.

That's what District residents were doing yesterday at the city's traffic adjudication services division at 301 C St. NW. Clutching parking tickets and citations for such other violations as speeding, some lined up to contest their fines while others were resigned to paying. Not surprisingly, they weren't happy to hear that not everyone is held accountable for parking fines.

"That's unfair," protested D.C. resident Alexander Williams, 42, a real estate salesman who was waiting to pay a $30 fine. "They should be liable for their tickets. We citizens have to pay our tickets, and government officials shouldn't be exempted."

The federal government's blatant disregard of city parking restrictions apparently is not drawing much ire from enforcement agents in the District and New York. And the report provides its take on the reason why: Municipal workers in agencies directly responsible for assessing fines failed to pay thousands of dollars in parking fines of their own.

In the District, city workers ignored $33,000 in penalties assessed to their government vehicles, including $10,000 racked up by the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for assessing the majority of tickets.

And in the Big Apple, where city employees had not paid $491,000 on 2,562 tickets, the New York Police Department had a delinquent balance of $192,000.

"This is troubling, because we need DPW to set an example," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment. "To my knowledge, we've never focused on this issue, and we need to focus on it. I'll make sure we do."

The report says the D.C. government abides by a "double standard." The Department of Motor Vehicle's policy is to "boot or tow vehicles . . . that have two or more 30-day-old, unpaid parking tickets," the report points out.

But D.C. parking enforcement officers give a pass to government-tagged vehicles "as a matter of long-standing policy," the report states. And, although federal law requires employees to pay their tickets, "there are no consequences for ignoring parking tickets [so] federal employees have no incentives to pay up or comply with local parking laws," the report found.

The report quotes the D.C. DMV director as saying that if the city were to change its towing policy for federal vehicles, it would be forced to do the same for District vehicles, and "politically, that's not a feasible thing to do." Lucinda M. Babers is the director, although the report does not name her.

But Public Works Director William O. Howland Jr., who was not interviewed for the report, said his office handles parking enforcement. The agency issued 1.4 million tickets in 2007. There is no policy prohibiting booting or towing federal vehicles, and some have been booted, Howland said.

He acknowledged, however, that he would never boot or tow a D.C. government vehicle.

"It's an unofficial policy," Howland said. "What I would try to do, and am doing, is make agencies pay their tickets."

In the past, he said, it was difficult to determine who was driving a D.C. government vehicle, but yesterday the city unveiled a new car-sharing strategy for its fleet that will use technology borrowed from Zipcar to monitor drivers. Also, Howland has developed a legislative proposal that would allow the city to take fines out of workers' wages. It would require council approval.

Howland said his records show that only 63 unpaid tickets remain from 2007 and 30 this year. Asked how he could beef up enforcement of federal violators, Howland said: "We could start targeting people down in the federal areas, but I don't target any area."

If he did, he would be wise to start near 13th and L streets at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, where the Army, Navy and Air Force share a building.

In Oberstar's report, military recruiters who were interviewed said they do not remember receiving tickets or believed they were ticketed unfairly because they "had government plates." One Navy official said the Armed Forces had an agreement with the District that government cars outside the office would not receive tickets.

Yesterday, Maj. Terence Stephens, who oversees the Army's portion of the office, said the command was made aware of the problem by Oberstar's committee staff in February and told the recruiters to park legally and pay up.

"We're retraining the recruiters," Stephens said

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