City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers has proposed that the District of Columbia government create a new umbrella agency that would handle all the city's regulatory functions, including issuing business licenses and policing the rent control law.
Six bureaus would be created within the proposed Department of Regulatory Affairs to handle regulation in specific areas -- occupational and professional licensing, insurance, business licensing, land and building regulation, environmental quality and social services. The new department would be headed by a cabinet-level director.
Six current District government agencies would be abolished, although their functions would be absorbed by the new super-agency. They are the Department of Licenses, Inspections and Investigations, the Rental Accommodations Office, the administrative office of the Educational Institution Licensure Commission, the Office of the Surveyor, the Department of Insurance and the Office of Consumer Protection.
In addition, the new agency would take over some functions now performed by the Department of Environmental Services, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Recorder of Deeds and the Department of Human Services.
The new agency was proposed in a May 14 letter from Rogers to members of the City Council's Committee on Government Operations. Rogers wrote that the plan had not yet been approved by Mayor Marion Barry, but in the past Barry has said repeatedly that he hoped to streamline the city government's operations.
The plan calls for housing the staff of the new agency in a "new central office space." The staff would be made up of the employes who now perform the regulatory functions at the various separate agencies, working in offices that are blocks or even miles apart.
Rogers wrote to the council that the new agency would not save the financially strapped District government substantial money during its first two years of operation, but he added that enough savings could be achieved to offset the cost of finding office space and moving employes and files. Eventually, he wrote, there could be "significant" savings through a unified regulatory operation.
The plan would create a new one-stop application center for permits of all kinds on the ground floor of the North Potomac Building at 614 H St. NW. Particularly complex applications would be assigned a "case manager" from the new regulatory department to shepherd them through the licensing procedures.
"The present system requires the applicant to navigate the system through different agencies and locations," Rogers wrote. "A change in that situation can greatly improve service to the citizens, and at the same time eliminate duplication and wasteful process within the government."
He said that under the current system, the city fails to collect all the licensing fees it should. In addition, he wrote, crucial tasks such as fire code inspection are not being pursued adequately.
As an example of current inefficiency, he cited the administration of rental housing laws. "One agency receives and processes license applications. Another administers rent control and tenant grievances. Another administers the laws protecting tenants against unfair sale or conversion of the building [to condominiums]. Still another investigates housing code complaints against landlords."
None of the agencies concerned with rental housing keeps consolidated or uniform records, Rogers wrote, and they do not share what records they have.