About 95 children of federal employees and contractors may soon be out of a day-care center because of space and safety concerns at a basement facility located at the Agriculture Department.


Officials announced plans last month to close the USDA Child Development Center at 14th St. NW in May. The General Services Administration later pushed back the closing date to September after hearing from panicked parents.

“To close a day-care center in three to four months is ridiculous, because it takes a year or longer to get into any day-care center in the District — on a good day,” said one of the affected parents, who works as a contractor with USDA. “I’m on waiting lists right now that are two to three years. To give parents three to four months is absurd.”

Parents who contacted The Federal Eye in recent days about the impending closure — all of whom are employees or contractors with the USDA or the nearby Education Department — spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

“My husband and I are pulling our hair trying to find another center in the downtown D.C. area,” said one mother, who has two children at the center. “Most places have at least a two-year wait list. We live in Woodbridge, so putting our daughters in day care in that area isn’t possible.”

The USDA day-care center, which opened in 1991, cares for 95 children and is part of a GSA-owned network of 29 federal day-care centers in the Washington region. The agency’s centers serve more than 2,300 children each day and there are plans to open three more locations in the coming years at the departments of Homeland Security, Interior and State.

But the USDA facility must close soon because of its unsafe basement location, GSA said.

“After taking over the facility in 2009, GSA discovered issues that have been mitigated, but the most effective solution to protect the children is to move the facility elsewhere,” GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said last week. The agency is working with the USDA and affected parents to find “suitable replacement space for the children” while it also works to find a new long-term location, he said.

“There is no imminent threat” to the children, Agriculture Department spokesman Justin DeJong said last week, adding that the department is working with the parents to find alternative locations.

Federal day-care centers are a long-cherished perk of federal employees, many of whom commute daily from Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland to downtown Washington with kids in tow. Although openings at the day-care centers are offered first to eligible federal employees and contractors, parents not working for the federal government also are eligible to apply.

The USDA facility is considered ideal by employees who work at the department’s headquarters along Independence Avenue and at other nearby agencies.

Parents, who have been aware of the safety concerns for more than two years, said they are more upset that there are no plans to temporarily relocate the facility during basement renovations.

“Why now is the day care going to be closed with barely any notice and no plan to reopen the day care in another location?” said one parent. She has a 2 1 / 2-year-old at the center and is five months’ pregnant. The baby is already on the waiting list.

Another mother, a USDA employee from Silver Spring, said she pays about $2,000 monthly for care for her 3-year-old and 5-month-old at the USDA center.

“It’s going to be more expensive” to find a facility able to care for an infant, she said. “And since we commute in from Silver Spring, it’ll mean more time we spend away from our kids and more time our kids spend in day care.”

What do you think? Are you aware of similar issues at other GSA-owned day-care centers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Jacob Lew defends Obama’s spending plan

Supreme Court justices are being served on late-night television

For more, visit PostPolitics and The Fed Page.