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I write in response to the inaccurate and misleading Loose Lips article that appeared in the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 edition of the Washington City Paper. Although you give the appearance in the article that you interviewed me about the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and my work as its director, you did not. This fact is confirmed by the lack of substantive evidence contained in your article. Instead of interviewing me, you deliberately misled the reader with uncorroborated allegations from alleged “staffers” of DCRA. Yet my staffers would have told you that DCRA is in the midst of a renaissance that benefits both the neighborhoods and businesses of the District of Columbia.
From the outset, your article suggests that I am wasting taxpayer funds because the furniture for my office “retail[s] for over $60,000.” One can only assume that this was an attempt to persuade the reader that the price of the furniture was extravagant and cost the District residents $60,000. Later in the article, you confirm that the real price paid for the furniture was “two-thirds” of the $60,000 (or $20,000). Additionally, your alleged source stated that I “picked the top of the line.” This is also untrue; I did not pick the furniture for my office. The furniture for the entire Office of the Director was selected by the “move coordinators” from one of two General Services Administration (GSA) office furniture schedules. I would note that the prices of the furniture from each schedule are the same.
Next, you present a dissertation about what I might say about my supposed lack of performance during my five months as director. However, I have not and will not make excuses for anything that occurred before I arrived at DCRA. I do not have the time to make excuses for DCRA because we (the employees and I) are rolling up our sleeves and turning it around. If you had spoken to me about DCRA’s performance since I have been director, I would have presented you with recent customer surveys that show that 92 percent of our customers believe our services are improving. Indeed, the surveys over the past 90 days confirm that our customers rate our courtesy, helpfulness, knowledge, and overall service as being “good to excellent.” These are empirical data, not hearsay. These surveys are available for anyone wishing to see them. Yet your alleged “sources” failed to acknowledge their existence.
Contrary to the allegations in your article, DCRA has eliminated a four-month backlog of electrical inspections and is now completing all inspection requests within 48 hours. In two days, we will have eliminated a six-month backlog in building permit reviews. In fact, DCRA is now processing and reviewing more than 85 percent of the building plans on the same day we receive them. Plans that cannot be processed the same day, usually complex and major development projects, will be processed within 30 days. (This figure is competitive with the region.) Additionally, DCRA has eliminated a backlog in processing 10,000 professional licenses that existed long before I came to the District. Ironically, in the same edition of your paper, in the City Desk section on Page 13, you even cite that fact that a “four-person Japanese government delegation toured…DCRA in search of tips on streamlining business licensing and regulation.”
Had you even visited the department, you would have been greeted by a new customer service representative (CSR), who would have provided you with detailed and accurate information on where to obtain the necessary permits and licenses. The CSRs have received a six-week training course on everything at DCRA and are receiving fantastic reviews by our customers. Customers are treated differently, from the initial greeting to the end of the visit. Pick up the telephone and call us, or come in for service, and find out for yourself instead of relying on your sources.
As to the use of the new fleet of cars, I informed you that the frequency of the use of all the vehicles is something that I need to investigate. (This was the only subject that you called me about.) I and my staff attempted to call you back several times, but you failed to give either of us a return call. Unfortunately, the dust and dirt on the cars are due to their present location, which has a dirt floor and is surrounded by pigeons. We are in the process of improving the car situation.
You also suggest in the article that I changed the selection of the director’s car from a Ford Taurus to a Mercury Grand Marquis. This is also untrue; the cars were procured from a schedule of vehicles developed before I came to DCRA. The schedule listed a choice between either the Mercury Grand Marquis or the Ford Crown Victoria for the large vehicles. Contrary to your article, a Taurus was never on the list, and the person who ordered the cars ordered only General Motors and Chrysler vehicles from the mid-size schedule provided by GSA.
Upon my arrival at DCRA, I learned that the previous administration had been about to lose the money to procure the cars mandated by the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority because of its failure to make progress in the purchase of the cars before the end of the fiscal year. Not only was I able to complete the purchase of the vehicles, I also negotiated a better deal for District taxpayers by ordering more affordable cars that cost less money than the previous administration had anticipated spending.
Regarding my time, I do not disappear from my job. In fact, I average over 60 hours per week at DCRA, including the numerous citizens and civic meetings that I attend with my staff. My personal and civic activities do not interfere with my job as the director. As I informed you, a staff of approximately 20 people runs the day-to-day operations of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. This staff includes a highly compensated executive director. I also told you that I only chair the quarterly board of directors’ meetings. Additionally, you stated that you had called the fraternity headquarters in Atlanta and someone from DCRA had called you back. That statement is absolutely untrue and misleading.
Finally, I am certain the tainted “sources” for your article came from the ineffective employees that I have removed or replaced due to their inability to become a part of the renaissance of DCRA. Articles like yours aid those few incompetent and change-resistant employees by giving them an audience to continue. However, several employees came to me in tears after reading your hurtful article about DCRA and speculated aloud, “Why do we work so hard to improve if they continue to berate us for the past?” Therefore, it is for my employees that I write to clear up the falsehood that you have spread about the agency.
Thank you. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Department of Consumer
and Regulatory Affairs