The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs dramatically "underachieved" the number of health and safety inspections it told District officials it would perform last year and does not regularly inspect foster care homes, according to performance figures released by Council Chairman David A. Clarke at budget hearings yesterday.
The department also has taken as long as six years to write regulations on several council-passed consumer measures, which has delayed enforcement of laws involving controls on drugs, fines for violators of health standards and the licensing of employment agencies, pharmacists and funeral directors, the Committee on Regulatory Affairs was told.
"It did take an inordinate amount of time," agency Director Carol Thompson told the committee, referring to several examples of delayed enforcement. "It's really staffing issues," she said, saying that only three of the department's 754 employes could write rules and they had other duties, too.
Thompson is asking the city for a new budget of $34 million with 850 employes, an increase of $6 million and 96 positions.
Clarke accused the Service Facility Regulation Administration, a division of the agency, of "gross underachievement" in its inspection of child care facilities, health care practitioner inspections, clinic visits and adult care inspections. He found the number of inspections performed in 1985 was 42 to 92 percent fewer than promised.
Frances Bowie, director of the division, said its goals on inspecting health care practitioners and their use of drugs in treatments were set with the expectation that her division would issue rules on a 1980 bill regulating drugs. But the rules became final only two weeks ago, she said, which meant many inspections weren't done.
"If I recall that law, which I wrote, it had its own strength of law" and could have been enforced without rules, Clarke said.
But Bowie said her division's interpretation required rules to be written.
"I don't want to be crass," Clarke continued, "but what took six years?"
Under questioning from an incredulous Clarke, Bowie also said that the city does not inspect foster homes.
"The law does not specifically state we have to do inspections," she said. "We can if there are complaints."
Clarke also questioned why the agency asked for $500,000 in additional money last year for a lead paint removal program, but did not spend $351,000 of it. "You're not eliminating the lead we gave you the money to eliminate," Clarke said.
The money is to be used for emergency cleanup when a landlord refuses to remove lead-based paint.
Council member John Ray (D-At Large), chairman of the committee that monitors the agency, also complained that he has seen no signs on car dealers' lots explaining the "lemon law" that the council passed last year regarding car sales. Agency officials said draft rules have been written and final rules are expected March 17.