Many don't show up for work, their productivity has dropped, they overlook numerous revenue opportunities for the District and there aren't enough of them.
Meet the folks who write parking tickets in our nation's capital.
So much for the stuff of legend.
While "parking control aides" -- their official title -- have long held a nasty reputation as perhaps the most zealous arm of District government, a panel of D.C. civic leaders says in its report released yesterday that parking enforcement is lax and "meter maids" could be a lot nastier.
It is but one of a number of nuggets about D.C. government tucked away in the 150 pages of a report whose main recommendations focus on cutting staff, raising revenue and prodding the federal government.
Side-by-side with those big-ticket items are small-scale proposals about secretaries for the school board, engines for the fire department, "shock incarceration" for offenders, community service for doctors and, yes, a more diligent effort from parking control aides.
Once upon a time -- actually, six years ago -- a parking control aide, or PCA, wrote an average of 103 tickets a day, the commission headed by Alice M. Rivlin found. Today, it's only 80 a day. The commission doesn't know why, said staff member John DiRenzo, but it does know that drop has meant lost revenue. It would like to see a 10 percent increase in the daily ticket totals.
Furthermore, 21 percent of the PCAs are absent on any given day. And 16 percent of the 130 authorized PCA positions are vacant. That means the District has fewer ticket-givers on the street daily than most cities.
And there's more: The District loses money when it boots and tows cars. Normally, the owner of a booted car pays a fine to have the boot removed. And the owner of a towed car pays a fine to get it back. But when a car is booted and towed, the District charges only the towing fine when it should assess both the booting and towing fines, the commission said. City officials declined to comment on this and any other findings of the commission.
By the way, the commission would like the District to have 500 more car boots (it has only 175) and 3,500 more parking meters to supplement the 14,000 it has now. All told, the commission said, $11.3 million more a year ought to be squeezed out of parking enforcement.
The commission doesn't want anything additional, however, for the 11 members of the D.C. school board. In fact, the members ought to have a whole lot less, the report said.
They shouldn't have so much staff: Each board member has up to four aides.
They shouldn't have so many offices: Each has one downtown and one in the ward.
They shouldn't have so much pay: Each gets $27,575 annually.
Commission member Terry Golden said no other school board in America gets so much. Many, in fact, get none of that. So the commission recommended cutting the support staff 50 percent, confining members to one office each and making their jobs non-paying.
While all that would save the District only about $700,000 a year, said Golden, there would be non-financial benefits. Commission members believe board members dabble far too much in the nitty-gritty of school operations, he said, and their staffs make that possible.
Without as much of that staff help, Golden said, the board members would be forced to leave the nuts and bolts to the person whose job it really is, the superintendent.
The commission also came out against fire-engine pumpers.
Not all of them. Just half.
When one of the city's 33 engine companies responds to a fire, it takes two pumpers with it, one bearing four firefighters and the other just one.
But a single modern truck can do all that. So the extra pumper isn't needed.
By retiring 33 trucks, that would save 99 positions: one firefighter per truck, over three eight-hour shifts. That would save $9.2 million in the first year with no loss of safety, the commission said. But the city has repeatedly tried to make such a change, only to have Congress and the firefighters union block it, and union leaders vowed yesterday to do so again.
While it wanted fewer firetrucks, the commission wanted more discipline at the District's corrections facility at Lorton.
Army-style discipline, actually.
It recommended converting one of the city's prisons there, the 600-bed medium-security facility, into a "shock incarceration" camp, another name for the "boot camps" that have taken root in some states.
Prisoners are treated almost like conscripts, subjected to a regimented daily schedule that includes morning and afternoon drills, said Kevin Wright, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York, who acted as a consultant to the commission.
The camp would serve only first-time offenders and only those who have committed non-violent crimes.
Boot camps are more expensive than traditional confinement -- $70 per prisoner per day in New York State instead of $55, according to Wright. But the District could actually save money because boot camp is intended to last six months, far less than the two- to three-year sentences that prisoners would otherwise receive, he said. That means that far more prisoners could be processed.
The commission suggested that, as a condition of being licensed to practice medicine in the District, every doctor be required to donate four hours of health care every month to patients who have no health insurance.