As the National Security Agency opens Maryland's largest work-site child care center, many envious working parents wonder: If NSA can do this for its employees, why can't my company?
To find an answer, look at the history behind NSA's new 300-child center. This was not a project that sprang up overnight. Agency leaders did not wake up one morning and decide suddenly to give their employees a convenient place to bring their children. The center became a reality only after a decade's worth of planning and pushing by employees who were smart enough to know that if they wanted NSA to do something about child care, they had to do something themselves.
Ten years ago, NSA employees formed their own organization, the Children's Development Center Association, to push for reforms to make life easier for working families. They met every month, persisting patiently even when it was clear they wouldn't see results for years. Half the credit for the new center goes to them.
The other half belongs to NSA, which paid attention to what its employees were saying when agency officials easily could have ignored them.
The new center shows what can be done when employers are willing to be innovative and cooperative; it also shows that on-site child care doesn't have to ruin an employer's bank account. The Army leases two acres, located on Fort Meade several blocks from NSA headquarters, to Children's World Learning Centers of Colorado, one of the country's largest day care providers. Children's World paid $2 million up front for construction. NSA pays the provider a monthly fee for mortgage amortization, utilities and insurance.
For a competitive price, parents get certified instructors who provide "child development" rather than babysitting. And they can choose from a variety of educational activities, so the day care is tailored to their children's needs.
Because this center is located on government property, NSA had to wade through a long list of federal regulations -- far more than any private company would have to meet. It could have discarded the project with the excuse that it was simply too much trouble.
Instead, the agency showed enough foresight to recognize that, unless we want to risk the social ills that will come from a generation raised essentially without parents, companies are going to have to find ways to help working families take care of their children.