William R. Ford, one of Mayor Marion Barry's hand-picked "can-do" administrators brought in to shape up a District bureaucracy long viewed as wasteful and inefficient, is resigning after a year on the job as head of the city's problem-plagued Department of Employment Services, officials said yesterday.
Ford's departure comes at a time when many of the relatively young managers brought in by Barry have become frustrated at their inability to make the kinds of changes they had planned, primarily because of the city's budget crisis and Barry's preoccupation with it, according to knowledgeable sources.
"Ford is the first one of the persons to leave who came as the result of a so-called nationwide search for a super human being who could run this or that troubled agency," said one mayoral aide who asked not to be named. "It in some ways is reflective of the tentative nature of the mayor's policy and direction. There is no overall policy from this end."
Several months ago, a number of city department heads formed an informal group to begin developing a "policy agenda" for the administration. They complained that the budget crisis had robbed the administration program for attacking such problems as housing and governmental organization.
A city department head who, like Ford, was brought in after an extensive search and was one of the ones privately grumbling about the lack of a policy direction, said yesterday that the 47-year-old Ford had "just made the decision that a lot of us are thinking about."
City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers denied that frustration with limitations imposed by the budget crisis was a factor in Ford's decision to leave. He said Ford had made it clear when he took the job that he might decide to leave if the right job in the field he preferred -- international relations -- opened up.
Ford, who declined to comment on his departure, will work as Southeast Asia Regional director for the Agency for International Development. He will work in Washington, an AID spokesman said.
But the department head, who asked not to be named, said a lack of program funds and direction from the mayor's office, coupled with an ongoing struggle against the budget crisis and the demands of emulating Barry's own self-professed working schedule of putting in "a lot of 17-hour days and weekends," had caused widespread frustration.
"People normally come to a job to make it grow, to do things," the official said. "It's an unusual experience for most of us to take over a department and make it shrink."
"It's a hard psychological problem," the official said. "You're watching your department shrink. At the same time, you're giving maximum commitment -- I'm out at community meetings almost every night. At some point, the burnout rate just increases.Bill had been talking about leaving as early as June. You just have to make a personal assessment."
Ford, who will leave his post October 3, was selected to head the troubled agency -- formerly called the D.C. Department of Labor and before that the D.C. Manpower Department -- by Barry in August, 1979.
Like some other key Barry appointees, such as Rogers, Department of Housing and Community Development chief Robert L. Moore and Department of Human Services head James I Buford, Ford was chosen after a wide-ranging search that involved flying search that involved flying in a number of applicants from around the country.
These managers, most of them around 40, as is Ford, are in many ways reflective of Barry, City Administrator Rogers, and the "can-do" approach they hoped to bring to a District government that has long had a "can't do" reputation and been viewed as an embarassment by some blacks in the city.
"I would hope, and I sense, that people still feel the tremendous challenge," Rogers said yesterday. "It took a hundred years for the District government to get into this mess, and I think people realize it's going to take a while to get out."
Rogers said that Ford had been "completely upfront" about his intention to leave. Rogers added, however, that he had been unsuccessful in persuading Ford to stay on at least until next January.
Rogers and several other officials descounted reports that the administration had been displeased with Ford's handling of the city's summer jobs program for youth, which experienced the same kinds of delays in getting paychecks to young workers and administrative mix-ups this year that the program had suffered in the past, despite that summer youth employment has long been a pet issue of the mayor.
But some sources said the problems with the summer jobs program did play a role in Ford's decision.
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back, really," said one Barry aide. "Marion brought [Ford] in last August for the express reason that he would have a year to plan the summer program. Then it fell flat on its face. There was some concern as to whether Ford could rein in the department."
Said Rogers: "There was no specific dissatisfaction with Bill Ford as head of the department.Obviously, the summer jobs program didn't run the way the mayor wanted it to run and it didn't run the way Bill Ford wanted it to run. But he is not being forced out."
Adolph Slaughter, spokesman for the employment services department, said that one of Ford's accomplishments on the job was drawing up and starting to implement a plan for decentralizing the department, establishing community offices where citizens can receive services -- such as signing up for unemployment compensation -- previously available only at one downtown office.
A department source said that Ford's efforts to improve the department's record in placing clients in jobs -- which he said ranked "50th in the nation" when he took office -- were hampered by many factors. Among them was the fact that most clients are products of the troubled D.C. school system, which has not been producing graduates able to compete successfully for the white-collar jobs that predominate in this area.
Ford previously worked as the director of AID's mission to Nigeria. Prior to that he headed the Michigan Employment Security Commission, where he was the first black to direct a state labor department.