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Is DWP milking taxpayers?

February 15, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power came under fire Thursday for paying specialists to show new and expectant mothers at the utility how to properly breast-feed their children.

The plan to issue another DWP-funded "lactation services" contract drew howls from taxpayer advocate Walter Moore, who pointed out that the utility's five-member board voted just last week for a package of new water and electrical rate hikes.

"You couldn't make this up," he said. "This is such a rip-off. You've got to wonder if somebody's cousin runs the lactation business."

Contract proposals are due to the DWP on March 7. The utility posted a 56-page document on its website seeking proposals from specialists who can spend 16 hours a week performing such tasks as workshops on pregnancy and lactation for employees.

The winning contractor also would be paid to show employees how to use the department's "breast pump program in traditional and nontraditional work environments." Neither the Port of Los Angeles nor Los Angeles World Airports -- two other city agencies with their own budgets -- have hired lactation specialists. But DWP officials say they have awarded such contracts since 1988 and argue that the service has improved employee morale and reduced absenteeism among new mothers.

The newly hired DWP general manager, H. David Nahai, said he has no intention of abandoning the contract.

"It's enlightened. It's humanitarian. And it boosts productivity," he said.

Still, DWP board President Nick Patsaouras said he wouldn't vote for the contract if he had the opportunity, regardless of how low the bid was. Because it is expected to cost about $50,000, the decision is up to Nahai, who has discretion over any contract under $150,000.

"I don't believe in these things," Patsaouras said. "If you are a private company, you can spend your money as you want. But when it comes to taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, you have to be more careful."

Patsaouras, who was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said he has spoken out previously against lactation contracts.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the council's Energy and Environment Committee, said she thought that breast-feeding consulting could be provided through employee health plans, not a separate contract.

Meanwhile, Moore said he has no interest in bidding on the job himself.

"I'm lactose intolerant," he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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