Congressional report blasts feds for racking up parking tickets

Federal employees in Washington and New York City racked up about $175,000 in unpaid parking tickets by the end of 2007, according to a report released by congressional investigators on Friday.

Employees failed to pay the city of Washington $63,150 in parking fines assessed on government vehicles in 2007, the Democratic staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee found. And in New York City, federal workers accumulated at least $112,456 in tickets as of early December 2007, the report stated. The actual amount owed in New York was probably higher, as the city has data only for agencies that participate in its program to track government vehicles, investigators noted.

Federal employees should set a model for other citizens by following parking restrictions, which help reduce congestion and prevent accidents, the report said. "In cities like the District and New York City, where parking is a premium and traffic is a concern on everyone's mind, no federal employee should be flouting parking laws, and especially when the safety and welfare of the citizens are put at risk," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Under federal law, the drivers of government vehicles -- rather than the agencies that issue them -- are responsible for paying or contesting parking tickets. But the report said agencies should do a better job of tracking outstanding tickets assessed on their vehicles.

The congressional investigators were particularly troubled that the General Services Administration, which oversees the federal fleet, could not keep tabs on its own employees, who owed the city of Washington $4,150 from 34 tickets assessed on federal vehicles in 2007. The agency did not keep a careful log of employees who checked out vehicles, so it was impossible to tell who was driving the cars when the tickets were issued, the committee staff found.

"GSA has enabled federal employees who operate government-owned vehicles to simply ignore the law," said Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee. "By turning a blind eye and failing to provide sufficient oversight, GSA has allowed illegal parking to compromise mobility, create unsafe conditions for pedestrians and other drivers, and obstruct emergency vehicles."

GSA told congressional investigators it is implementing stricter policies. For example, it will require employees to submit electronic requests for checking out vehicles. Employees will not receive keys until the online reservation is complete, and the agency will reconcile reservations, vehicle logs and actual mileage monthly.

These controls "should have been instituted years ago," investigators stated.

GSA could not comment on the report on Friday.

The report recommended that agencies reduce delinquencies by encouraging the use of public transit, making sure they have enough parking spots to accommodate government vehicles, registering for city programs that offer updates on outstanding tickets, and requiring employees to report tickets to their supervisors or face disciplinary action.

Part of the blame also lies with city governments for lax enforcement, according to the committee. "Parking enforcement personnel should be advised that government tagged vehicles, except for nonrush hour parking meter violations, should be treated no differently than civilian vehicles for ticketing purposes," the report said.

This is the first time the Transportation and Infrastructure panel's Democratic staff has investigated the issue, a spokeswoman said. Norton, who is chairwoman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, said she plans to hold a hearing on possible solutions during the next session of Congress.

Click here for a list of the agencies that had the most outstanding tickets in 2007.

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