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Will 2017 be the Year DCRA Finally Shapes Up?

Four months ago we featured a news story reporting on myriad, ongoing complaints about the District’s department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in which were headlined a number of these service complaints and with our reporter observing that “based on what we heard from  these independent neighborhood business owners, the question seems to be, what should the District’s elected representatives do with DCRA?” (See, “DCRA ‘Customers’ Say Bad Service Continues Even After Decades of Promised Relief; Officials Say No,” January 2017 issue.)

Well, based on what we just read in At-Large Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr.’s constituent e-newsletter of April 6th, it would appear that at least one member of our city council is rising to the challenge. In outlining the importance of the recently concluded two-month round of oversight hearings conducted by all of the council’s committees with respect to the departments, agencies, and programs for which they are responsible for overseeing, Councilmember White clearly stated his commitment to that process:

The District Government has improved significantly over the years, but we still have room to grow to meet the needs of the residents we serve. I believe that strong oversight often is just as effective as new legislation, which is why oversight over our local agencies is one of the Council’s most important responsibilities.”

One of the departments that the council member reviewed was DCRA., and we were especially interested in his views given that we had recently reported on its problems and about how officials were aiming to institute long overdue improvements. Here is what he had to say:

“DCRA has an enormous impact on the lives of people in our city. From enforcing housing codes to granting business licenses, their responsibilities factor into our safety and quality of life. So, I took the opportunity during the oversight process to shed light on areas where the  agency must improve.

“I was particularly concerned about substandard inspections of rental properties without any enforcement, and illegal construction that contributes to shoddy home redevelopments and damage to neighboring properties. I was not convinced that DCRA fully recognizes the magnitude of illegal construction or how it affects residents. I also explained how DCRA needs to step up their enforcement on vacant and blighted properties, which impact neighborhoods that are struggling to turn the corner. I was clear that I will continue to examine their performance on these fronts.

“I also pushed DCRA to improve their business licensing processes because I continue to hear complaints about how difficult it is for businesses to open in the District. DCRA expressed that it believes its processes and timelines are strong. I think residents disagree, so I will continue to work with my Council colleagues to make the agency more responsive.”

We were particularly struck by what White wrote in his third paragraph, that notwithstanding assertions by the department’s representatives about its processes and timelines being “strong,” he made clear to those officials that he is keenly aware residents and business persons very well know otherwise, and so “will continue to work . . . to make the agency more responsive” (emphasis ours).

We applaud the council member’s strong statement of commitment to following though; we interpret it as a pledge to virtually “bird-dog” DCRA’s director to finally and once for all do something that prior department heads and mayors have pledged but never accomplished: a real change for the better.

As we reported in our January news story, Joaquin McPeek, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, told our reporter “the Mayor spent a week at the agency with the leadership and staff identifying ways to make policies and processes more streamlined, efficient and consumer-friendly.”

A good start, but we would have been much more impressed if McPeek had told us that the mayor had spent meaningful time with small business owners and residents who have had bad experiences so as to hear directly from the people most adversely affected.

McPeek, according to what our reporter learned, stated that there will be “new programs in 2017 aimed at improving DCRA and raising its level of customer service to all DC residents.” We will hold Mayor Bowser to that promise.