The National Institutes of Health has commissioned two "bicycle shelters" for its headquarters, but will not say how much the purchase will cost taxpayers.
The agency issued a notice last week announcing its intention to go outside the normal competitive bidding process to purchase bicycle shelters from Modern Design Site Furnishings, a Czech company with a distributor in New Jersey.
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The notice said the NIH plans to buy the bicycle shelters because employees are parking their bikes on hand rails, causing "safety concerns" and compliance issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The purpose is to "provide a modern bicycle shelter around [building] 49 to eliminate bicycle parking on hand rails to the entrance of Bldg. 49 that is causing ADA safety concerns," according to contract documents.
The agency said it has to contract with Modern Design Site Furnishings because it is the only company that offers "modern designs for Bicycle Shelters."
Modern Design Site Furnishings describes its bicycle shelters as "elegant."
"Bicycles are no longer just the exclusive transportation of the poor—and design should react to this truth," Modern Design Site Furnishings said. "This elegant bike shelter has an uncompromisingly dynamic shape combining a robust frame and delicate glass which are supported by sturdy stainless steel brackets. The main characteristics of this shelter are the grooves for bicycles in its rear and its distinctly slanting wall."
The company does not list prices on its website and refused to disclose what its bicycle shelters cost when asked by the Washington Free Beacon. An employee initially said he would send a catalogue with estimated pricing and background materials on Modern Design Site Furnishings to the Free Beacon, but the documents never came.
The company said later that it called the NIH after speaking with the Free Beacon and the NIH told it not to comment for a story.
"Modern Design Site Furnishings is one of several companies involved with the NIH in talks to build bike shelters," the employee said about the price of his company’s bike shelters.
The employee added that the "tone" of the Free Beacon’s content showed that it had an "agenda," adding that it posts "funny pictures of the president on its website."
The employee added that the Free Beacon was not interested in the "whole story" about why the NIH plans to purchase two structures to protect bicycles from the weather.
The NIH also would not say how much it plans to spend, telling the Free Beacon that the bicycle shelters are needed to encourage more employees to bike to work for environmental reasons.
"This purchase is necessary to encourage alternative transportation, thus reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality," spokesperson Bradley Moss said. "The purchase allows the NIH to comply with federal guidelines established to mitigate traffic congestion. The costs of the shelters will be announced when the contract is awarded and made public."
When asked why the NIH did not choose to purchase cheaper bike racks, the NIH said the bike shelters are a "long-term investment."
"The shelters help to protect bicycles from the elements, which in turn, protects the employee’s investment with biking to work and hopefully encourages others to commute by bicycle," Moss said. "Promotion and support of bicycling as an alternative commuting option is essential for NIH compliance with federal guidelines to promote environmental stewardship and employee health benefits."
"For example, the NIH was the leading employer in the metropolitan region for the 2016 Bike to Work Day with the most individuals pledging to bike that day," he said.
Moss added that the NIH does have bike racks, but "we do not have those options" where the bicycle shelters will be located.
The NIH referred questions about the price of the bike shelters to the company and the NIH Contracting Office. The agency would not say if it told the company not to comment for the story.