There’s still plenty of time for winter to show its dark side, which is why the District was urged to come up with better policies and procedures when it comes to planning for a major storm. According to a new audit report, the city spent $41 million on Winter Storm Jonas or “Blizzard 2016.” But it didn’t need to.
The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor conducted the report. According to the auditor, the snow removal budget for Fiscal Year 2016 was about $6 million.
"When we had a blizzard that was facing the Eastern Seaboard and we were in competition with jurisdictions up and down the east coast, it was very important to me that I could assure residents of the District that we had the equipment that we needed," said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
But the city used contingency cash reserve funds to pay for services. Findings showed a wide variety of charges among contractors for identical services – some contractors reportedly charged higher than normal rates for services. And D.C. employees did not negotiate prices, according to the report.
“Every winter brings with it the possibility for a major snow event like Jonas,” said D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson in a statement. “And this report shows that the District needs to move from spending more than was necessary for goods and services during a Jonas-type storm to planning for the unexpected with better policies and procedures in place that ensure we control our spending during our next weather crisis.”
RELATED: Before and After - Blizzard 2016
The report found other issues like $92,000 in credit surcharges as a result of using purchase cards for payments, despite a policy against paying such fees.
The report said that the D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement (OCP) should not only conduct an audit of all credit card expenses related to Jonas and require District agencies to seek reimbursement from vendors where it finds the District did pay fees, but also start more extensive review procedures to ensure the District does not pay such fees in the future.
"We are a 13 billion dollar economy here in the district of Columbia. So its my job to make sure we’re using those resources well - but we will clean up the snow and we will keep the city open," said Mayor Bowser.
The city also violated federal procurement law by allowing agencies to purchase food and lodging for employees during the winter storm period. The report says the OCP should develop policies and procedures that clearly outline approve purchases.
"Well, actuall, Ted’s Bulletin is one block away from our snow command center. So people went to the places that were closest. What you don’t want in an emergency is to send people far away. All of that travel time eats into time that they can have on the streets, cleaning up snow," said Mayor Bowser.
The Department of Public Works OCP are encouraged to review annual snow removal needs, the equipment used to meet those needs and look at other best practices used by larger cities.
Officials at the auditor’s office also urge the city to negotiate prices and secure contracts with contractors well before the threat of a major storm.