MTA Perk--Free Coffee--Criticized by Congressman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Compared to the billions of dollars that transit officials are spending on the Los Angeles Metro Rail project, it's a drop in the cup.

But their decision to continue providing employees free coffee and tea--at a cost of $40,000 a year--has drawn the attention of federal auditors.

The coffee contract was brought to light Monday by a member of the House Public Works Committee, a panel with great influence over how much federal money flows to Metro Rail.

"I am disappointed," said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), who last fall initiated the federal General Accounting Office review of expenditures at the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. "The GAO reported that the taxpayer-supported (transit commission) continues to make lavish expenditures, such as $40,000 a year to provide free coffee for its employees."

Duncan and a spokesman for the GAO said he had been briefed by auditors on their findings. An aide to Duncan said the GAO would provide a "summary report" to the congressman within the next few months.

Duncan said the transit agency has imposed safeguards to prevent excessive personal vehicle use, out-of-town travel and entertainment expenditures reported earlier by The Times. Transit officials this month said they also have eliminated catered meals and deluxe doughnut samplers that the agency had purchased for employees.

Asked about the coffee contract, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Stephanie Brady noted that the award was approved in June, 1992, at a public meeting. Brady said the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission hired a company to provide coffee and tea for brewing by the employees. The MTA was formed this year with the merger of the county transit commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

Duncan called on MTA commissioners to reconsider the coffee contract at their next meeting. "It creates an impression in the mind of many taxpayers that wasteful spending continues to be tolerated whether on a small or large scale by the new MTA," Duncan said.

Marvin L. Holen, one of the officials who voted last year to approve the contract, said Monday that the agency should follow Duncan's advice. "It sounds like something that ought to be reviewed carefully and rethought," said Holen, who serves as an alternate on the MTA board.

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