Thank you for publishing “Rise and Fall” (8/26). But the article neglected the larger public policy issue, which is an examination of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ (DCRA) role and responsibilities—the root cause of the problem that resulted in the tragedy in Shaw. Today, the DCRA’s regulatory function is out of balance due to lack of leadership, management, resources, and vision. According to its mission statement, “DCRA ensures the health, safety, and economic welfare of District residents through licensing, inspection, compliance, and enforcement programs.” Unfortunately, it has not proactively modified codes and regulations nor made recommendations to the Mayor, D.C. Council, and public at large that balance protecting consumers with promoting development.
Look at the District’s codes and regulations. Many of them are based on antiquated building standards and not on modern methods of construction practiced elsewhere in the country (e.g., New York City). For DCRA leadership, that means understanding the economic development that is under way in the city as well as working with developers, trade associations, and consumer groups to update and revise old codes from a safety and health perspective. That’s hard work. Let’s take one of the questions raised in the article: Should the DCRA require contractors to be licensed for conducting work related to their trade? New York City requires it. Other professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, are required to be licensed because they affect the “health, safety and economic welfare” of people. If the DCRA determines that contractors should not be licensed, it should accept the burden, responsibility, and liability to make sure construction projects are sound and safe. That means hiring qualified building inspectors to certify that construction codes are followed.
Alternatively, the DCRA could outsource the function to the private sector through third-party validation. (Third-party companies would assume liability for their misjudgments.) But that means the DCRA would be more involved with ensuring that third-party inspectors are properly trained and are following procedures.
In sum, DCRA leadership, or perhaps Mayor Williams, needs to take responsibility. Right now, consumers and homeowners are the ones taking the risk; they need a regulatory partner to help them, not just issue stop-work orders. So, the message from the District is: Homeowner beware!