Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: ‘Gloom, despair and agony on me … ’

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“Gloom, despair and agony on me.” That’s a lyric from a song sung by country western stars Buck Owens and Roy Clark on the old “Hee Haw” television program.

But the phrase came to mind when we were focusing on news out of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, better known as DCRA. This agency long ago surpassed the Department of Motor Vehicles for consumer complaints about its bureaucratic ways.

“I don’t think the people are bad, but the bureaucracy is ridiculous,” wrote one pained citizen offering a review on the website Yelp. “I pray I never need another permit.”

And so it goes. There are many good employees, but the system stymies all but the strong of heart and those who have time to adjust to the sometimes-glacial pace of permitting rules.

But that isn’t what caught our attention.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office last week put out a news release saying a former employee of the regulatory agency pleaded guilty to federal bribery. The employee faces a range of 12 to 18 months in prison and possible financial penalties when she is sentenced in October.

The former employee, according to prosecutors, is Stacie M. Williams, who had worked for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs from 2004 until late last year. Prosecutors say she accepted $700 in cash from a person who was ostensibly trying to get permits but actually was working with the FBI.

Prosecutors say Williams acknowledged partnering with former co-worker Lucretia B. Barksdale in the permit scheme. Barksdale pleaded guilty last year to bribery and was sentenced to three years on probation, 180 days of which was home detention.

The federal cases were part of ongoing criminal investigations involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the D.C. inspector general.

Bureaucratic snags and criminal activity are legally two separate things. But a poorly run bureaucracy opens the door to manipulation and illegal activity by those who know how to game the system. Watch that space.

What does DOES do? Another city agency bureaucracy that gets a lot of quizzical looks is the Department of Employment Services, or DOES. This department is the lead agency for training people for jobs. With so many in the District who want a job but may lack training, that’s a very important mandate.

Elissa Silverman began her first at-large D.C. Council term in 2015. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2015)

But there always have been questions about just what DOES does. Now, we’re about to find out. At-large D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman has proposed legislation that may finally shed light on the more than $100 million that the agency spends on workforce development.

“Almost every day I meet with D.C. employers who say they simply can’t find D.C. residents qualified to fill their jobs,” Silverman wrote last week after introducing her bill. “And we can’t sit idly by and let that happen anymore.”

Silverman, backed by 10 colleagues, wants to know how many people are in job training, what are they learning and what evidence there is that anyone gets — and keeps — decent jobs. Her bill is called the “Workforce Development System Transparency Act of 2017.” It will probably get a public hearing after the council summer recess.

The bill would require the mayor to publish a clear report detailing spending and job placement outcomes for all of the city’s job training programs, including those run by the public schools.

“Show me the money,” Silverman wrote in her best Jerry Maguire imitation. “And show me the jobs that come from spending that money.”

The Trump International Hotel, shown before it opened, is located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. (Brady Holt/The Current/March 2016)

Don’t mix ’em up. A lot of people who wince at the activities of President Donald Trump make it a point to stay away from his downtown hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But some of these people are mistakenly staying away from the Old Post Office Pavilion tower that’s part of the property.

Don’t fall for that mistake. The tower has some of the best views in Washington. It is fully operated by the National Park Service, and the only connection to the hotel is that you have to enter the rear of the hotel off of 12th Street NW. But you are immediately in a designated space for the Park Service and the tower. It has wall-sized graphics on the history of the building and its place in Washington. The whole experience is free. No charge for entering, riding the elevator or enjoying the 360-degree sights once you get up there.

Regardless of your politics, don’t snub the tower. Go.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.