A second major study of the trouble-ridden D.C. Department of Human Resources has found severe mismanagement and shortcomings within the agency that serves needy people in the city. But the study stopped short of recommending a major restructuring of the huge agency, saying such reorganization might best be accomplished later.
There is a need for "more effective, more efficient, more flexible service delivery," a 15-member task force set up by City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker found. While some community spokesmen told the task force that the agency was in need of substantial reorganization, the task force concluded that "serious managerial and operational problems should be addressed and additional information evaluated before the city labels its coordinated human service delivery system a failure."
The task force made 14 recommendations, including one that urged the city to eventually turn the health service programs it now manages over to private or semi-private groups. "Since 1972 the city's record of management of health facilities has only grown worse," the task force said. "We found the city is supplying lower quality health care at higher cost. To allow this to continue makes no sense."
Tucker and the City Council launched their investigation into a possible restructuring of DHR last March, in a move that had all the trappings of a political war between Tucker and Mayor Walter E. Washington.
First, Tucker announced that he planned to study reorganization of the agency. The the mayor quickly set up his own task force, loaded with nationally known names in the social welfare field, to do the same thing. The 42-member mayoral task force was headed by Philip J. Rutledge, DHR's first director and the architect of the agency in its present [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
[WORD ILLEGIBLE] countered by setting up the smaller, 15-member task force of mostly local people headed by M. Carl Holman. Holman is president of the National Urban Coalition and has not been associated with DHR's stormy past.
The mayor's task force unveiled its report last May at harvard University where Rutledge was a fellow in the school's Institute of Politics. The Tucker task force released its report Monday in the City Council chambers at the District Building.
In the end, both reports reached similar conlusions on two key issues: Neither believed the massive agency should be immediately dismantled, and both reported that DHR has in the past been a poorly run department.
The 379-page report from the Tucker panel found that: DHR has failed to adequately assess the needs of the people it serves; there are faulty procedures for awarding contracts; the agency does not give its services maximum availability to those in need, and many DHR workers are inadequately trained to do their jobs.
DHR has an ineffective system for carrying out its own policy decisions, the task force found; its budget is drawn up in such a way that few people really understand the department's planned expenditures; the agency's programs for detained youths at the Children's Center in Laurel, Md., have serious problems, and DHR does not adequately meet the needs of the city's growing Latino population. DHR's staff morale is often low and workers are sometimes lax, the report said.
"The organizational problems found to be most serious," the panel said, "were overlapping and duplication of functions, insufficient delegation of authority to operating levels and the lack of effective decentralization policies."
Already, the task force said, the city is not getting the full benefit of available federal programs, especially in the area of health care, because of DHR's failure to comply with comprehensive plan requirements. In addition, the city will be unable to take full advantage of pending changes in the nation's welfare laws unless DHR obtains better data on the people it is to serve and improves its welfare planning, the tast force warned.
The suggestion That the city get out of the health services business was not entirely new. A similar recommendation was made in 1972 by the so-called Nelson Commission which studied restructuring of Washington's municipal government. That recommendation was never implemented, however.
A first step in that direction was taken last year, when the City Council, over protests from the mayor, stripped DHR of its managerial responsibility for D.C. General Hospital and appointed instead a semi-private group to run the city's public hospital for the indigent.
Since 1972, D.C. General has lost its accreditation, and the hospital as well as D.C. Village, the city's public nursing home for the elderly, have been threatened with loss of Medicare funds because the facilities have not been kept up to federal standards.
If the task force's recommendation were followed, the city would still guarantee health care services for city residents and inspect and license the facilities, enforce patients' access to health care treatment, provide health education and keep statistics, the report says.
The Tucker panel cited two major reasons for not advocating immediate reorganization of DHR, the city's largest agency. The first reason was the lack of a compete assessment of the human service needs of city residents, while the second was the current efforts by the federal Department of Health Education and Welfare to reorganize the nation's welfare program. DHR administers most of the city programs funded by HEW and is almost certain to be affected by any national welfare restructing, the report says.
The task force did, however, recommend two internal changes in the way DHR is run. It suggested the creation of a handful of new positions, some at the executive level, to assist the department director in planning, making policy and administering the department. In so doing, two other relatively small DHR executive divisions - the Office of Planning and Evaluation and the Office of State Agency Affairs - would be dissolved.