Death Trap Day Care

Article excerpt

The director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is David W. Watts. Mr. Watts, who has held more than one city post, sometimes concurrently, was appointed last month. The mayor said he believes Mr. Watts' "legal background makes him better suited for the business and regulatory functions for DCRA." Some longtime observers of D.C. government have questioned whether Mr. Watts is indeed the skilled manager the mayor says he is. Mr. Watts can begin proving himself with the bureaucratic bungling plaguing DCRA.

As the municipal government's licensing and regulatory arm, it is DCRA's responsibility to ensure that people doing business in the city are licensed, certified and in compliance with innumerable laws, rules and regulations. The agency's oversight runs the gamut - eating establishments and building codes, as well as individual and business licenses and permits.

Overregulation is at the core of DCRA's overall problem, namely, a climate that is driving out business. Overregulation encourages a lack of focus on the oversight that really matters. Take the licensing of day-care centers, which by law inspectors must visit at least once a year.

As The Washington Post spelled out this week, 180 of the city's 350 day-care centers are unlicensed and have been that way for quite a while. One of the largest centers in the city, one that takes in more than $850,000, including public funds, to care for 200 children, has not been inspected in nearly 2 years and has been operating on an invalid license since spring. The Post reports on centers with unattended children wallowing in Pine Sol, youngsters playing with roaches, children who are inadequately fed walking about rodent droppings in "potentially life threatening" play areas. These are unconscionable conditions for little ones, a blatant abuse of tax dollars. But this is D.C. government, remember, so there's more to the story of lax oversight and day-care inspections.

The D.C. Department of Human Services inspects day-care centers too. DHS' oversight, however, is limited to facilities entitled to taxpayer money. In some instances, the monitoring by the two agencies, DCRA and DHS, overlaps. For instance, DCRA is responsible for licensing, inspecting and monitoring a center, but DHS inspectors determine whether the facility should be certified and contracted to receive public funds for subsidized care. …