Emissions contract is scrutinized Legislative panel requests a delay

December 15, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

A legislative committee is calling on the state Transportation Department to postpone the awarding of a lucrative contract for the vehicle emissions inspection program.

Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said his committee will issue a letter Thursday formally asking for the contract to be delayed.

He said members were motivated, in part, by a Government Accounting Office report that criticized the accuracy of the proposed emissions test.

"It's premature to make this decision," Mr. Levitan said. "We think there have been faults with this procedure."

Page Boinest, a spokeswoman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said late yesterday that there are no plans to delay the contract process but that she couldn't comment further until Mr. Schaefer has seen the letter.

The GAO study, released in October, showed a quarter of cars flunked their initial inspection but passed a second exam even though no repairs were made.

The congressional watchdog agency suggested that public support for cleaner air might be undermined by tests that are unreliable and costly.

Mr. Levitan said the committee's criticisms are broader than just the GAO findings. He said there are also lingering questions and concerns about the contract's specifications that haven't been answered satisfactorily.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to announce today the membership of a blue-ribbon committee that will be asked to oversee the emissions inspection contract.

The contract, which could be worth $100 million to the winner, would substantially upgrade and expand Maryland's tailpipe monitoring program to meet clean air standards mandated by the federal government.

The process of selecting a contractor has been a subject of considerable interest within the legislature and among lobbyists who represent firms competing for the contract. Advocates for Envirotest Systems Corp., the company that runs the state's existing vehicle emissions testing system, contend that the company has been unfairly placed at a disadvantage.

At issue are the specific requirements put into the contract by the state transportation department, including the design and locations of testing centers and the kind of equipment they would use. There have also been questions raised by the department's decision to own the stations, rather than leave them in private hands.

Bids on the contract are due in mid-January.

The decision to appoint the blue-ribbon panel represents the second time in two years that Mr. Schaefer has decided to name a special committee to oversee a controversial state contract. In 1990, the governor created two panels to review the awarding of the contract to supply a new computer system to the state lottery.

Panel members are: Mark Keener, a Baltimore lawyer; Gerald L. Thorpe, director of the Maryland Energy Administration; James Clark Jr. of Howard County, a former state senator; Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County; Norman M. Glasgow, a lawyer from Montgomery County; Jillyn K. Schultz, an attorney with the governor's office; and Quentin Lawson, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Ms. Boinest said the committee members were not chosen for any special knowledge of vehicle emissions testing but rather to "get some legal representation and a good cross-section of minds and talents."

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