Problems in Washington's troubled youth employment program literally spilled into the streets again yesterday as hundreds of young people jammed a downtown employment office seeking checks they were promised three weeks ago.
And once again many of the youngsters left empty-handed, angry at administrative foul-ups that have ruined one of Mayor Marion Barry's most widely touted programs.
Some of the teen-agers arrived yesterday at the D.C. Department of Employment Service's offices at 500 C St. NW 90 minutes before the doors opened. They were there hoping that their names would be on the 5,600 checks to be given out yesterday.
But before the office closed yesterday afternoon, hundreds, many accompanied by frusted parents, were still tapped in long lines that would around the office.
District officials conceded that up to 1,000 of the youths will remain unpaid until sometime next week, despite the overtime city workers put in this week in an effort to process their checks.
Yesterday was the second time in four weeks the program's thousands of youngsters did not get paid on time. On July 18, a week after about 1,800 youths went without their first paychecks, the program's director, John Anderson, was fired and replaced by Rudolph VonSlaughter, who heads the District's Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program.
"Look at all these people," said Antonio Scott 17, gesturing at the pushing and often cursing, youths jammed in the office. "When '82 comes Marion Barry expects us to come out and vote for him? For what?"
"Marion Barry, he's wrong, John Anderson, he's wrong, too," hissed Vandora Dodd, 17, of 5743 East Capitol St. SE. "If they didn't have the money for all these folks then they shouldn't have hired them," she added.
"Who's sponsoring this program?" yelled another youth, "Whoever it is they don't know what they're doing."
After problems with the first paychecks, District employment officials promised that all the missing checks from the first paydays, July 10 and 11, would be made within days.
Nevertheless, the payroll problems, aggravated by a watermain break in the basement of the program's headquarters at 222 Sixth St. NW last Sunday, have left thousands of youths unsure where their paychecks are, or if the checks even exist.
When their supervisors could not give them the answers, hundreds of the youths decided to come to the program headquarters on Friday. Some received checks, but many simply got what they said was a City Hall runaround. They said they were told to go either to one of the eight program offices on Saturday, or to return downtown.
Thomas Kennerly, 16 of 316 Quintana Pl. NE said yesterday he waited for his check with 150 other youths for five hours on Friday at the Kingman Boys Club, where he works as a day-care aide, before they were told by "the lady in the office" to come down to the C Street headquarters. After standing in a long line there, Kennerly said he was told that his supervisor was waiting for him back at the Boys Club.
But the supervisor never showed up and Kennerly, with his mother, Sandra Mi-Chelle, were among the hundreds in the sometimes tense crowd at C Street yesterday.
"It's ridiculous -- they say they want the children to be more responsible but the adults here are not setting a good example. I feel that the kids are behaving pretty well here. It could have been a riot," she said.
City officials insist that no one person or problem can be singled out for their repeated failures at delivering checks, a problem that also plagued the program last summer. Interviews with officials, supervisors and the youths illustrate a massive management problem and lack of communication from top to bottom.
"It's no use to point a finger at anyone. Whichever level you look at it, it's a fiasco," said Von Slaughter, who was charged with cleaning up the program eight days ago.
The problems with the pay system include:
Incompetent or misinformed supervisors at worksites who have failed to follow proper procedures in preparing the youths' individual time cards.
Failure at the district manager level to keep proper track of all work-sites and their workers.
Failure to communicate main office instructions to worksite supervisors because of understaffing and poor training.
Transfer of thousands of youths from one worksite to another without proper paperwork.
The sheer size of the operation, which doubled its payroll from 9,300 to 17,000 workers in just four weeks without what one official called adquate shakedown or preparation.
Von Slaughter pointed out that the program's central office literally did not know that 244 of the 2,554 worksite existed until this week. He also said that the program has lost between 20 and 30 of the 200 managers responsible for picking up timecards from the worksites, a key link between the youths and the administration.
As a result, Von Slaughter said, he will hire 40 to 50 new managers on Monday to beef up the program and will "strongly recommend" that employment director Ford hire an outside firm to run a streamlined check-delivery system in time for the next payday, Aug. 7-8.
With the eyes of the mayor and thousands of youths on him, Von Slaughter acknowledged he is in a hot spot and likely to end the summer "with my name as mud."
"I've dealt with hurricanes David and Frederick," said Von Slaughter, a former city commissioner from west Florida, "but I've never seen anything like this."