Do you trust Washington with the care of your children? If no, you’re wiser than the military, which gave a federal agency management of its childcare program, supposedly to save a few pennies.
The Army runs an assistance program to help service members pay for child care by private providers when no care is available on base. Some 13,000 families participate in the program. The program was run by Child Care Aware for America for a decade before the Army canceled the private contract and handed over the job to the General Services Administration (GSA) thinking it could save $4 million by transferring management of the program to the government in early 2014.
The process was that GSA would reimburse child-care providers once information on the families and providers was verified, but families had to pay all child-care costs up front while they awaited approval.
We shouldn’t be shocked by what happened. As we’ve learned with the VA and other agencies, federal agents poorly managed the program because of government inefficiency, ineptitude, laziness, and lack of concern. Unlike in the private sector, customer service is an unknown concept.
Thousands of unprocessed application piled up along with unpaid invoices. Phone calls from families went unanswered while voice mails were even deleted.
It reportedly took the GSA up to seven months to process some subsidy applications and families reported that the wait was so frustratingly long they considered having one spouse quit their job to stay home with their kids just to stay atop of the unpaid bills.
Finally, the Army yanked administration from the GSA and turned it back over to the private contractor. Army officials apologized for not checking whether the GSA was up to job and have been working to fix the damage done by the GSA.
The Washington Post reports on this unbelievable story:
Inadequate staffing and technology to accept and process applications for subsidies was quickly overwhelmed by the demand from families, officials said.
The GSA had to sink another $4.4 million into handling the backlog, wiping out any savings it had promised to the Army.
GSA officials said at Wednesday’s hearing before a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that they have whittled down the backlog from 26,000 requests for service to about 1,500.
GSA Inspector General Carol F. Ochoa also noted a significant drop in complaints about the program since the agency started paying the backlogged invoices.
The GSA’s chief financial officer, Gerard Badorrek, said the agency is “now responding to most phone calls and emails within 24 hours, reviewing family requests for enrollment changes within days and completing these family requests, in most cases, within a few weeks.”
Congressional leaders seemed relieved by the progress.
At least this story had a more positive ending and that’s because the Army was quick to recognize the backlog and take action to remedy the situation.
Army officials seem to demonstrate refreshing leadership skills beginning with public acknowledgement of the problem and apologies followed by actual steps to fix what was not working – namely government. If the GSA is the problem, why should we expect them to be able to fix themselves?
Stephanie Hoehne, director of family and morale, welfare and recreation at the Army Installation Management Command, told lawmakers “We deeply regret the hardships and inconvenience we caused our families and are doing everything possible to regain their confidence and ensure mission readiness for our families.”
If only we could see this philosophy applied to other mismanaged programs from public assistance to veterans services.
Big government fans believe in the concentration of power and control over our lives in Washington. Yet, they are nowhere to be found when inept federal bureaucrats prove that they aren’t up to task. Lost in the shuffle are the victim’s of big government's failure.