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Child Care

 

STATEMENT OF SUSAN CLAMPITT
ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR

OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND WORKPLACE PROGRAMS
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT, INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

FEBRUARY 11, 1998

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ms. Ranking Member and Members of the Committee for this opportunity to testify on the issue of child care and the work of the General Services Administration. My name is Susan Clampitt, and I am the Associate Administrator for the Office of Management and Workplace Programs. As manager of a program that affects all of government, I understand the seriousness and importance of the role of this Committee. I welcome the chance to appear before you and continue our conversation on the Federal Child Care program.

I request that my written remarks be added to the record.

At this transformational moment in our society, when the way we work and care for our families evolves into an ever-trickier balancing act, the issue of affordable, quality child care confronts us all. Parents with young children struggle with what's best for their family, their jobs and budgets. All of us are stakeholders in that decision, for the choices made today have a profound ripple effect on us all, today and in the years ahead, when those children grow up and replace us.

Federal workers walk that same tightrope as the rest of society. A 1992 study showed that about one-quarter of all Federal workers had children under the age of six for whom they were responsible and who needed care at some time during the work day. That same s urvey said that 75 percent of those people could use assistance to help meet their families' dependent care needs. That's a lot of children.

Federal agencies have responded to that need in a number of ways. GSA oversees 109 centers in its public buildings across the country. As you know, the Department of Defense has an extensive child care program that they operate for military families, funded in part through appropriations. Other Federal agencies, not including GSA, sponsor a total of 133 centers.

Today, I want to discuss generally GSA's child care program and talk about the two critical issues we face - quality and affordability, and to give you my thoughts on the pending legislation that we believe strengthens the ability of the Federal government to provide affordable, quality child care for its employees.

Child care has been a big priority at GSA for a dozen years. In that time, we have earned a reputation for quality programs and concern for the safety and security of the children. In 1996, more than 7, 1 00 children - a mix of Federal and non-Federal families - were cared for in GSA buildings. Since coming to GSA last summer, I have made it part of my mission to go out and visit some of those centers and see firsthand the care those children receive.

I am pleased to report that the overall quality of child care in GSA-sponsored centers is equal to, and often, better than other privately-run child care facilities. The centers in GSA-controlled space are all operated by private non-profit or commercial organizations under the terms of licensing agreements which set standards designed to ensure quality. Because of this authority to set standards, we know these children in GSA-controlled spaces are safe and well cared for.

As with any child care program as extensive as the one GSA sponsors, there are differences of degrees in quality. One downtown center that I visited in Seattle last month, for example, was an oasis of care and compassion. Of course, that center had a strong and active board and a staff committed to quality curriculum and best practices. Part of our job in the years ahead is to raise the bar for all of our centers.

Each of GSA's 109 centers is operated independently, either by a large or small provider, for profit or not-for-profit, locally-run or as part of a national chain. Some of the centers have established boards, made up primarily of parents, who enter into contracts with the child care provider to maintain a degree of responsibility and oversight for the care of their children. These boards are also instrumental in local fundraising, which is used for curriculum enrichment and tuition assistance.

GSA, parents, providers, Congress and the Administration have been concerned for some time about affordability issues. Last year Congress directed the Office of Management & Budget to report on that topic, and OMB requested that we investigate. GSA commissioned a study through the National Academy of Public Administration on "Accessibility & Affordability in Federal Child Care" which addresses those issues.

Key findings of the study were:

The Federal child care system needs more adequate funding.

� Federal child care needs better information and more cohesion.
� Agencies may need more flexibility to pursue new funding and partnership
initiatives.
� There is no "silver bullet" that will solve the affordability problem.

How do we go about addressing consistency in quality and affordability? We believe that the legislation pending before Congress, H.R. 2982, the Quality Child Care for Federal Employees Act, and the Administration's proposed amendments to the Trible Amendment, are important steps.

H.R. 2982 will help bring more accountability to Federal child care. All Federal child care centers would be required to adhere to a uniform set of regulations which will be developed by GSA with the assistance of other agencies and representatives of the Judicial and Legislative branches. These regulations would help set national health, safety and facility standards and require that centers meet the standards for state/local licensing and national accreditation.

While agencies which sponsor eight or more child care centers would be delegated responsibility for compliance with the law, child care centers at other Federal, non-DOD agencies which sponsor fewer than eight would come under GSA oversight.

The legislation also sets up an interagency council to coordinate policy and share best practices. This council will give more cohesion to the Federal efforts, and a draft charter has already been developed.

The Administration's proposed amendments to the Trible Amendment would allow more flexible use of resources in supporting government-sponsored child care centers.

It modifies the 50 percent rule for Federal family enrollment from center by center to a national average, yet children of Federal workers would still have priority.
The proposed language broadens the definition of Federal employee children to include all children in the custody of federal employees, such as grandparents and legal guardians, as well as on-site government contractors.

It will allow us to partner with private centers to reserve spaces for Federal employee children in non-government child care centers when it is more cost effective to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, the legislation allows for some experimentation. Pilot tests and demonstration projects are authorized and encouraged, including those with the private sector. This flexibility for innovation may well prove the most important part of the package. Such innovation will need to have some evaluation component, in order for us to determine what works and what does not.

The Quality Child Care for Federal Employees Act and its amendments are part of the strategy to make quality child care affordable for the Federal worker. We have asked all of our eligible centers to apply for participation in the Combined

Federal Campaign, and that will help address the problem. The Interagency Child Care Council will help. The lessons learned from the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor's apprenticeship program for child care workers will help. Flexibility for pilot partnerships will help. Strong local boards at our centers will help. And I know this Committee will help, and I thank you for this opportunity.