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The District government’s belt-tightening has now extended into its vehicular policies.
In an memo issued June 23, Attorney General Peter Nickles addressed two issues: the use of city-owned cars in Department of Motor Vehicles driver tests, and the use of city employees’ own private cars while on government business.
Regarding the former, the memo [PDF] notes that as of Aug. 1, DMV “will no longer use government vehicles for its driver’s tests.” That, Nickles writes, is due to “weak indemnification language” in the waivers the test-takers have to sign—-those require the driver to take responsibility for any damage to the cars, unless they are “not financially capable of doing so.” Such a policy, Nickles writes, “makes it virtually impossible for the District to successfully obtain reimbursement” in the case of an accident.
This, of course, poses the question: How are unlicensed drivers supposed to find a car to take their test in? And, even if they can, how are they supposed to get the car to the test site?
LL posed those questions to the mayor’s office yesterday; he has yet to receive any explanation.
As far as the latter issue goes, D.C. employees have long been allowed to use their personal cars on government business, then collect a mileage-based reimbursement for the use. The problem, Nickles wrote in last week’s memo, is “a recent increase in claims against the District involving motor vehicle property damage by District employees.” Add to that the new Zipcar-based fleet management system and “current budget constraints to pay damage claims,” and you’ve got a no-brainer: Nickles says that “effective immediately supervisors should not approve the use of private vehicles by District employees, except in rare instances where doing so is absolutely necessary.”
But that move raised the hackles of at least one employee union. Johnnie Walker, president of AFGE Local 383, says “a train wreck is going to happen.”
In particular, he says, caseworkers for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department on Disability Services, among others, will find it harder to do their jobs.
“The District, historically, has never had enough government vehicles for employees to do the government’s work,” Walker says. “Workers have always used their personal vehicles.”
And the alternatives aren’t going to work, he says: “They’re asking the employees to utilize Metro and bus service. If this was Manhattan, I would be all for it, but the Metro system does not get them to their necessary site visits.” As for the Zipcar system, he notes that the availability of Zipcars around DDS headquarters, downtown on 15th Street NW, “is limited.”
Nickles apparently heard some of those concerns: In a followup memo released today, he backed off a bit, saying that “reliance on employees’ use of personal vehicles for official transportation may be necessary and justified under some circumstances.”
In today’s memo, Nickles says the city “will be re-evaluating the policies and procedures that currently apply to the use of personal vehicles for official business and may implement additional requirements with respect to that process.” In the meantime, D.C. employees can keep using their own cars where other modes of transportation “are not reasonably available.”