In an interview that appeared in Tuesday’s editions of The Washington Times, Mayor Williams gave reporter Ron Hansen a hearty dose of where his administration is headed during the remaining three years of his term and lessons of the first. The mayor says he plans to turn up the heat on one troubled agency and, as Mr. Hansen wrote, “force a large bureaucracy to be more responsive to its customers and fiscally sound.” The dollars and sense of D.C. government are on fairly sound footing, but the bureaucracy remains as customer unfriendly as ever.
A D.C. motorist found that out one recent afternoon at motor-vehicle offices on C Street NW. Having patiently waited for nearly two hours and braced for a third, he asked an employee if it would be alright to use the men’s room. He had to ask because the employee had locked the doors promptly at 4 o’clock and defiantly stood sentry over all who dared to attempt to enter or leave the room. When the man asked again to use the restroom, telling the employee his situation was urgent, the employee said, “sit down,” “(go) in your chair.” Onlookers were appalled, but few dared to question the don’t-ask-don’t go policy.
If you think that’s crude, consider what happened to another of the District’s “customers.” This man was in search of assistance regarding his auto insurance at motor-vehicle offices at 6th and H streets NE. After standing in line for 20 minutes or so, he told this page, an employee behind a glass shield scolded him for being in the wrong office. The man innocently said he didn’t know, then asked the clerk if he still needed the same forms he had already filled out. With a few flicks of her wrist, she shredded the forms, and thereafter, in trance-like sequence, repeatedly said, “65 K Street NW.”
K Street employees are just as rude as their bureaucratic brethren on C Street and H Street. A clerk, safely tucked behind yet another glass shield and in yet another dingy office, chatted on the phone while the line of “customers” grew longer and longer. A security guard rummaged through a “customer’s” handbag then tossed it on his desk, with her very personal belongings there for all to see. Yet another “customer,” an elderly, disabled gent who said he had stood in line for a half-hour, was so nervous after witnessing earlier confrontations, he could not find his driver’s permit. Poor soul, he said he would try again the next day.
Somehow, Maryland and Virginia give their “customers” an easier and far more pleasant go of things. A former D.C. resident recently told this page she spent little more than a hour, including drive time from downtown D.C., getting her tags renewed in neighboring Prince George’s County. By contrast, D.C. motorists had to wait two frustratingly long hours at the inspection station in Southwest Washington that very same day.
Unfortunately, motor vehicles was not the troubled agency Mayor Williams singled out as problematic. That would be the Department of Human Services. But encouraging humane services from all city workers wouldn’t be a bad idea either.