[from January 2001 issue]


The mayor recently saw to it that we citizens (at least those who receive Washington Post home delivery with its taxpayer-financed paid advertising insert) got to see the results of his so-called department and agency goals-accomplished scorecard results.

While we personally did not see this paid insert, nor were we provided with the report from the mayor's office, we did note in a published summary that "only three of 31 departments met standard for customer service." Naturally, we were curious as to which departments or agencies these were, as we knew our readers would also be curious, so we sent a one-line email inquiry to the mayor's office requesting that information. As this newspaper hits the streets, it has been one week since we sent our email, but we have yet to receive any response.

Should we be surprised? Probably not. We suspect that the mayor is too embarrassed and would rather not reveal the true situation. After all, if they were really proud of their accomplishments downtown, we would think they might try to jump through a couple of hoops to spread the word.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there have not been the kind of improvements that we were led to expect. The District government still has tremendous problems in figuring out how to move large and small efforts along. Problems seem to fester for months, if not years, and no matter how much people push and shove, the mechanics of the bureaucracy do not seem to permit smooth operations.

From Dupont to Logan to Shaw and Le Droit Park, from Columbia Heights to Mt. Pleasant to Adams Morgan (these are the neighborhoods this newspaper reports about, so that's where our focus is), we keep hearing similar frustrations. Only when something blows up, as it were, does a matter get resolved because one of our council members gets involved. But even then it is usually a short-term fix. The system itself continues to be largely dysfunctional.

A good example is the long-festering alley repaving non-happening near Dupont Circle which we have reported about on and off over the past 18 months. Is there any rational explanation as to why the promised repaving, scheduled as per posted signs last April, has never been carried out--despite assurances at the highest levels of government that the job would be done?

We decided to pose this question to DPW officials, along with some related--and really bigger issues involving contractor co-ordination, contractor supervision, and payments to contractors for work not accomplished. We sent our inquiry, in writing, over six weeks ago, but to date have received no substantive response. Here's what we wrote:

"Prior to the contractor's (Prince Construction) scheduled work, your own DPW had sent cleaning crews to prep that alley. A couple of weeks later the contractor sent its own prep crews to re-do the cleaning job done by DPW. Then the contractor tried to come another day to do the job but a DPW manager sent them packing, claiming that it was going to rain more than the little amount that had dampened the pavement the night before, even though anyone who had checked with the weather service knew that was not going to happen.

"A few weeks later the contractor tried to come back out but arrived 15 minutes after the gas company had started to dig a trench near the New Hampshire Avenue end of the alley to install a new gas line into a house. Apparently, there is no system of DPW co-ordination between contractors; in fact, if the gas company had shown up after the repaving contractor, the homeowner would not have been able to get his new gas service installed.

"Following that gas company work, the repaving contractor was not able to proceed until the Flippo Construction Co. could come out and make a permanent fix of the trench that the gas company had only been able to temporarily patch. The Flippo work was scheduled for sometime between late August and the day after Labor Day. Following that--now four months following the scheduled repaving -- that contractor theoretically was supposed to come back to do the work. But, to this date, the work has never been done (and the last of the undated "FY-98 2nd Citywide Alley Resurfacing Contract" notification signs that had been affixed to poles and fences in that alley finally disintegrated.)

"Meanwhile, in addition to wondering why the work has never been done and whether it ever will be done, we now are wondering whether the contractor has long ago received payment out of last year's budgeted funds, and, if so, what steps will be taken to force completion of the job or to recoup those funds?"

We contend that the litany of failure set out above is merely one example of the myriad things that don't work. We could cite many, many other examples of the kinds of service delivery failures that still persist, notwithstanding that the central promise this mayor made two years ago was to address the "bread and butter" service delivery concerns of residents. We will leave to another time to roll out other examples. Meanwhile, is anyone listening to the taxpayers.