WHATEVER UNDERSTANDABLE objections local taxpayers may have to the $47,000-a-year job that Mayor Washington has manufactured for Joseph P. Yeldell, there is some consolation: better this vague new assignment for Mr. Yeldell than a return to his old stand. True, Mr. Yeldell gets a few days to pass through some sort of civil service ritual in the Department of Human Resources before moving out for good. But the real importance of this rigamarole is Mr. Yeldell's permanent removal from DHR and what this will do to clear the way for a serious reorganization of the agency.
To be sure, this sluggish bureaucracy isn't likely to pop to attention and work social wonders during the remaining life of the Walter Washington administration. But there are some specific steps that can be taken right away if the mayor is at all serious about improving DHR's response to those many people who must look to it for help. Step Number One is to name a permanent director. If acting director Albert P. Russo is the choice, so be it; but whomever the mayor wants, let's get on with it. The efficiency, loyalties and structure of the department's top ranks hinge on the selection of a director. The sooner this decision is made, the better.
Then there's the long-standing, ever-immediate problem of welfare applications - which DHR hasn't been processing within the legal time limits. U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey E. Robinson has already found Mayor Washington and DHR officials in contempt of court on this matter - and there just aren't any more flimsy excuses left in this world for failing to comply.
Thanks to the concern and perseverance of the city council, there is hope on another front: D.C. General Hospital is to be removed from DHR's clutches. A new DHR management could help things by accepting this fact (which hasn't sat well there so far) and by doing everything possible to (1) get the hospital reaccredited and (2) assist in its transition to independent operation.
City council chairman Sterling Tucker also has noted his determination to reduce the size of DHR. That's essential, we believe. It may be, too, that all health services should be detached from DHR. There's also the entire question of child care in this city, which cries out for compassionate response. Meanwhile, there is a panel of social service officials, planners and academic experts chosen by Mayor Washington to study DHR and some 27 other human resources agencies around the counrty for ideas about other improvements in the local department. The work of this group shouldn't be allowed to drag on indefinitely.
So there is much to do - and undo - at DHR. What's significant at this point is that there's a fresh opportunity for this vital city agency to operate free of the defensive, personal, political and possessive policies of the Yeldell days. After five dreary years, that's a big break in the clouds.