On nights and weekends, when the city's strip clubs and bottomless bars are the busiest, there are no D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board inspectors regularly at work.
The ABC Board has had no money in its budget for regular night and weekend work for five years. Only if someone complains are overtime funds are somehow found.
The ABC staff has fallen from 28, including three full-time board members, during the early 1960s to 16 today. It's employes acknowledge they face an uphill battle to establish both internal efficiency and outside credibility.
Police officers bitterly complain that the ABC Board and staff are uncooperative and lackadaisical in their attitude toward enforcement. The police say they file complaints against about 70 clubs a year for violations that include illegal solicitation of drinks, sales to minors, and allegedly obscene dancing. Few of their complaints are acted upon, police say.
The ABC Board was unable to provide information on the number, origin and disposition of alleged violations. "We don't have those readily at hand," said Mary M. Reed, ABC deputy director. "Just within the past few months, we've established a procedure to keep track."
Reed said there is "some validity" to the complaints of police. But she blamed a lack of staff, not attitude.
The police also say privately that some ABC inspectors are too friendly with the licensees. There was a time when that was true, she said, but "not any more."
The board's job is to oversee the licensing and operation of 1,426 wholesale and retail establishments, on a $299,900 budget, slightly under last year's. The board's seven inspectors are GS-9s, earning $15,090 to $19,617 a year.
With "constant cutbacks," Reed said, "you have to be constantly changing your priorities. We're so far behind in control. For a little while, I felt we were beating our heads against the wall. Now we seem to be on firm ground, with a better sense of direction."