- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Several news stories in recent weeks gave the appearance of alarming D.C. lawmakers. Gunplay and sundry violent incidents in and around D.C. schools, for example, stemmed from lax security provided by a private contractor. Questionable lead levels in drinking water led officials to lambaste the both the independent D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and federal authorities. Transit officials, meanwhile, blamed a private contractor for allowing its parking attendants to steal $500,000 to $1 million a year at public parking facilities. While the finger-pointing might curry favor with the media, it masks a problem common to all three issues: lapses in oversight.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz’s high anxieties regarding the water are somewhat misleading. To be sure, water and sewer officials, as well as those at the federal Environmental Protection Agency, should have done a better job of educating and informing the public about the increased levels of lead in the drinking water. However, Mrs. Schwartz, a Republican, could have, too, since she is chairman of the Council’s public works panel. Also hiding behind the water-worry eight ball is Council member Sandy Allen, chairman of the Human Services Committee, which now, because of lax oversight by Mrs. Schwartz’s panel, is spinning wheels with the health department and trying to play catch up. Miss Allen, a Democrat, represents Ward 8, where both high schools (Anacostia and Ballou) have been plagued by violence — including fatal shootings and dozens of arsons. The council only now is questioning the security contract between private schools and a Baltimore-based firm. The seats held by her and Mrs. Schwartz, who also is a member of the council’s education panel, are up for re-election this fall.

And then there is Council member Jim Graham, who is not only a member of the public works and human services panels, but also immediate past chairman of the Metro Board of Directors. To hear Mr. Graham tell it, news of the millions of dollars in theft at Metro’s parking facilities came as a complete surprise. “The real problem is the contractor,” he said. “We’ve got a lousy contractor who doesn’t properly supervise.” How could that be, when both the contractor and Metro’s own auditor revealed the thievery on Mr. Graham’s watch? Moreover, Mr. Graham has been deeply involved in parking issues, especially in neighborhoods involving his ward, which includes Adams Morgan. As it happens, Mr. Graham is considering an at-large D.C. council seat.

What has happened here — the school violence, the potential health hazards of drinking water with high levels of lead and the loss of jobs for wage earners — warrants more than election-year grandstanding. It is hoped that, as the year rolls along, these three lawmakers do a better job of overseeing public policy and the public troths that fund it.

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