General Accounting Office officials testified yesterday that District officials often have left cooks and maintenance workers to supervise incarcerated juvenile delinquents and sometimes made a laundry manager and a recreation specialist responsible for an entire detention facility.
D.C. Social Services Commissioner Audrey Rowe said after a hearing before a House District subcommittee that city officials cannot find any instances of those employes actually being left in charge of a facility, but acknowledged some of them may have have been responsible for cottages that housed up to 10 juveniles.
Most of the youths, who are supposed to be getting an education while detained at the Oak Hill and Cedar Knoll juvenile facilities, receive only three hours of classes a day, and some get none, GAO found. Instead, the youths sleep and watch television most of the day, the officials said.
In updating a scathing report done last September of educational programs at the facilities, GAO officials told the subcommittee that the situation has gotten worse in several ways since last fall.
It is taking longer for the youths to be placed in special education programs, the amount of regular classroom time has decreased, and none of the 11 special education teachers employed by the city at the detention facilities has final certification from the D.C. public school system to teach special education, they concluded.
The new GAO report also provided more details of excessive overtime payments and questionable contract practices at the Youth Services Administration, which runs Oak Hill and Cedar Knoll in Laurel, Md., and the D.C. Receiving Home for Children in Northeast. About 6,000 juveniles are detained at the facilities each year.
City officials, who testified before the subcommittee on fiscal affairs, blamed many of the problems at the youth facilities on the city's attempts to close Cedar Knoll -- now known as Oak Hill Annex -- when its population was dropping and the subsequent, unexpected rise in the youths sent there. Cedar Knoll's population was 113 on June 6.
"The Oak Hill laundry manager and a recreation specialist cover as officer of the day, making them responsible for the entire facility," said Anthony N. Salvemini, GAO senior evaluator in the Washington regional office. "Furthermore, cooks and maintenance personnel sometimes replace group leaders, who are supposed to provide supervision and guidance to and security for juveniles."
Asked later about the role of cooks and maintenance personnel, Salvemini said in a phone interview that they have been in charge of an entire institution. "It happened a lot," because they wanted to get paid overtime, he added.
GAO officials said that city officials have developed a plan, signed May 28, that they have promised to implement fully in September, which would address the agency's recommendations on special education for learning disabled or emotionally disturbed juveniles at the facilities. But the report added that the success of the plan would depend on the city's willingness to put a premium on the programs and find the funds for them.
David Rivers, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, told the subcommittee that the city has filled 54 of 60 new "group leader" positions to supervise detained youths.
Rep. Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.), ranking minority member of the District Committee, who had asked the GAO to investigate the city's special education programs for detained youth, expressed outrage at the GAO findings.
"I'm appalled at the city's long-term lack of responsiveness, lack of caring, in this matter. Without help, these kids are surely going to Lorton Reformatory ," McKinney said. "Their lives are being ruined, wasted, while millions of dollars are squandered on unnecessary overtime payments or payments made to employes who are not even on their jobs."
GAO said that of 80 Youth Services Administration contracts worth $14.9 million in fiscal 1984 and 1985, only 15 percent were bid competitively. The others were negotiated sole-source contracts or renewals that were made without going back to bidding procedures.
Rivers countered that of $6 million in contracts awarded in fiscal 1985 and $5 million in fiscal 1986, about 80 percent were bid competitively.
Asked about the discrepancy, Salvemini pointed out that Rivers referred to different years than those reviewed by the GAO, which did not look at 1986 contracts.
GAO said it also found a contractor who received a flat fee of $173,000 to do 67 educational assessments of learning disabled youths, but the youth services agency only referred 37 youths for evaluation.
The GAO also looked at overtime payments by the youth agency, which city officials have acknowledged were excessive. The report cited examples of six employes scheduled to work for the same time period at two different facilities. Salvemini declined to say whether they were paid twice for the same hours, pointing to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. attorney's office.