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9/17/2008
DC: Lucrative Photo Enforcement Contract Under Scrutiny
Washington, DC Inspector General investigates photo enforcement program which has mailed tickets worth a quarter of a billion dollars.

DC Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby
One of the nation's most lucrative photo ticketing programs is under investigation. The Inspector General for the District of Columbia announced on August 29 that it was actively auditing the city's contract with American Traffic Systems (ATS) to determine whether any laws were broken when that company was granted full control over automated ticketing last year. Since 1999, Washington's photo ticketing program has generated 3.3 million citations worth over $250 million -- the equivalent of almost four tickets per resident.

"We were informed by a District official of potential irregularities concerning the award of the contract for the Photo Radar Program," the inspector general's audit plan stated. "Our audit objectives were to determine whether the contract was awarded in accordance with the District's procurement regulations, and whether modifications to the photo radar enforcement contract were made in accordance with the District's procurement regulations."

Despite showering city officials with free trips and campaign donations, the city's original vendor, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), lost the right to issue tickets in March 2007. The transition between the vendors was highly contentious, with ATS accusing ACS of being a sore loser and of sabotaging city equipment on the way out. ATS claimed that more than half of Washington's red light cameras and thirteen speed cameras had fallen into a state of disrepair by the time it had assumed control (PDF File view allegations memo, 1.6mb PDF format).

With millions of dollars at stake, photo enforcement contracts often involve bitter rivalry. ATS, for instance, is also at the center of an ongoing dispute with the state of Arizona over a contract to operate up to 200 speed cameras on freeways statewide. The company filed a formal complaint with the state police, insisting that it was impossible to legally select Australian photo radar provider Redflex. ATS wants the contract nullified because, at the time of award, Redflex did not have the legal right to operate its radar equipment in the United States (details). Because the state is losing more than a million each week that the contract remains under dispute, officials have moved swiftly to deny the ATS claim at every step of the dispute resolution process. ATS promises to take the case before a judge if necessary.



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