As the District's ability to govern itself has been drawn more and more into question, many of the DC's current functions (whether or not they are "normal" city government functions) have been removed wholly or partially from control by the city government. Individually, these actions could be considered "normal" inner city failings. Collectively, they form a daunting indictment of "home rule". They include:
DC's extensive Public Housing Programs have been under receivership since the middle of 1995 and, according to recent reports, considerable progress is being made in eliminating many of the intolerable conditions that made DC "the nation's second worst Housing Authority in the US", according to former HUD Secretary Cisneros. It is these depressing ghettos that produce an inordinate share of the city's crime statistics, as well as a large portion of the "counter-cultural" students that the DC School system must try to educate.
The DC Jail was taken over by a receiver in 1996, but progress cannot yet be measured.
The Child Welfare System was also placed in receivership in
1995, but according to DC City Administrator Michael Rogers, the
system was "highly troubled and change will likely take a long time"
(DC Agenda Project, 1/29/97)
After years of heavy criticism, and years of threats and cajoling by the US District Court, the DC Mental Health Agency has been ordered into receivership, with assertions that "the city has fallen woefully short" in its responsibilities.
Receivership was sought in September, 1998 for the DC Oak Hill Youth Prison. Lawyers presenting the appeal claim that neglect of the young inmates requires 'drastic and rapid change':
AGENCIES UNDER COURT
The DC Lottery Board was deemed so corrupt it was disbanded by court order;
o A court appointed monitor has overseen the mandated closing of the DC Village nursing home, and blasted DC's bureaucracy as "bumbling", "defensive", and "vindictive" in their "unconscionable excuses to defend their indefensible, self-serving operations that should have been an embarrassment and disgrace to any government". (Washington Post 1/27/97). The drawn-out process closing of this facility is chronicled by Harriet A. Fields, the court monitor, in a recent Washington Post article entitled "Closed for Good" .
Congress ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to study all aspects of operations and programs of the DC Corrections Department, probably contributing to the new Presidential proposal to shift DC's prisons to federal control, now written into law;
The Financial Control Board required the University of DC to accept an outside-appointed Chief Financial Control Officer
District finances were in such a deplorable state that President Clinton and the Congress appointed a DC Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Agency in 1995. By the beginning of 1998, this Financial Control Board has come essentially up to speed, and had been ordered to take over virtually all significant city management functions, leaving the elected mayor with very little to do. It has diagnosed the problems in all the city's many agencies, proposed a near-term plan for alleviating some of the most obvious problems, and has hired a "Chief Management Officer (CMO)" who is essentially the city manager. She, in turn, is hiring several senior deputies to help her run the city for the next four years. The Board's actions are still being met with substantial resistance from "Home Rule" enthusiasts, even though DC's independent Financial Manager still deplores the city's "dysfunctional bureaucracy" and the resulting "financial chaos" (Washington Post 1/31/97).
The DC public school system has fallen into such physical and educational despair that it is now also under the oversight of a federally appointed Board of Trustees and Chief Executive Officer. This new DC School Board is expected to require several years to bring public school standards closer to national norms.
The DC Tax Collection System has been deemed by a Brookings study to be "broken" with "unsystematic and arbitrary enforcement"; "significant evasion"; "lack of leadership"; "untrained" personnel with "outmoded technology" and "serious risk of corruption". The policy brief is attached. The President's "revitalization plan" would transfer most of these operations to the IRS.
The DC Police Department is in such bad shape that various influential Congressmen are giving serious thought to a proposal by the DC Fraternal Order of Police that DC's police force be "federalized" and placed under a federally appointed Commission. A recently released report by an independent Washington think tank has now resulted in police matters being removed from the mayor's control. A recently-unfolding scandal is illuminating a Homocide Division bent on collecting overtime pay, but solving fewer and fewer crimes. Meanwhile, federal law enforcement agencies in the DC area are being pressed into service to take over some of the DC police department's functions.
Under the initiative of the Federal Government's DC Task Force, many federal departments have stepped in to provide both technical and monetary assistance to help the local DC government conduct its own business:
Several departments have come up with special programs to provide both employment and job training for unemployed DC youth;
HUD is sponsoring several programs "to break the cycle of poverty through education, job training, and access to the information superhighway", in addition to its normal functions of upgrading low income subsidized housing.
The Department of Labor is offering several programs in job training for low income adults, dislocated workers, and students needing summer jobs;
The Treasury Department has facilitated short-term financing of DC's share of METRO capital obligations and relieved DC's large FY96 cash flow problems;
The IRS is developing reforms and modern tax information systems for the badly troubled DC Department of Finance and Revenue Collections;
HUD is tearing down dilapidated public housing developments within sight of the capitol and building new low- and moderate-income apartments and townhouses;
HUD is providing special teams and investigators to crack down on crime and fraud in public housing and on negligent landlords. These are nationwide programs from which the DC is getting special attention;
HUD has designated DC one of the first six "Innovative Homeless Cities" for federal assistance in reducing DC's very large homeless population;
Congress passed a special law to waive DC's requirement to provide matching funds to leverage Federal highway funds, thus enabling the otherwise unaffordable projects to be undertaken;
The Federal Highway Administration is reviewing virtually all aspects of policies, procedures, planning, procurement, inspection, contracting, and maintenance of DC's troubled Department of Public Works ;
The Department of Education is helping the "different players in the DC school system reach a common understanding of how to improve DC public schools", currently some of the worst educational performers in the US ;
The Department of Education has also been brought in to provide audits, training and technical assistance in dealing with some of the DC's most violence-prone schools;
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing extensive assistance to help DC "acquire the management tools it needs to improve its social services, income maintenance, and public health programs". These are programs normally administered at county, state, or federal levels, and which the DC appears to have used primarily to provide jobs for otherwise unemployed DC residents;
HHS is helping install its "State wide (sic) Automated Child Welfare Information System" to significantly improve DC's management of its foster care programs;
HHS provided funding of 200 Head Start slots when DC local funding ran out;
HHS has now assigned several federal employees to help DC administrators handle grant management issues, manage Medicaid data and payment, and sort out reimbursement claims;
HHS has waived normal Medicaid rules for three years "to allow DC to test voluntary managed health care for the city's low-income disabled and special needs children";
Virtually every federal law enforcement agency has been drawn into a federal assistance program for the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in efforts to reduce city crime that has included the mugging of a Supreme Court Justice and several Congressmen, as well as the murder of at least one Congressional staffer;
The US Park Police and the Secret Service are taking part in high crime area patrolling, contributing significantly to total arrests and drug seizures;
The Justice Department stepped in to eliminate a backlog of 2000 cases of firearms requiring identification by the MPD, and is funding a program to help remove illegal weapons from the streets;
The US Marshals Service is providing special short-term protection for witnesses and victims in DC;
The Federal Protective Service and FBI are helping MPD with background checks of police recruits;
The Justice Department has provided special grants for the DC Corrections facility; drug control; improved police equipment--and overtime (!); juvenile justice and delinquency prevention; and victims assistance programs;
Violent crime task forces funded and staffed mainly by FBI, DEA, and ATF are helping MPD improve its arrest rate with federal data bases and technical expertise;
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has taken over DC prisoners to alleviate chronic overcrowding conditions;
The Department of Defense stepped in to eliminate the backlog of hundreds of decomposing corpses (including children) piling up in the DC Morgue with cause of death undetermined;
The Federal Emergency Management Agency stepped in to provide trucks and plows from the National Park Service, and contract operators through the General Services Administration when DC proved unable to cope with the "Blizzard of 1996"
There is virtually no aspect of the management responsibilities of the DC government that is not in some way being "assisted", "augmented", or taken over by some other federal agency or specially appointed authority. It is a seriously damaging indictment of the whole process of "home rule" since its inception 20-odd years ago.
Additional Help for DC in FY99
o The FY99 federal budget includes $5M for the National Park Service to spruce up many of DC's federally-owned parks. (DC owns less park acreage than the much smaller Arlington County.) This NPS "DC Sparkle" project will to the extent possible provide summer work for DC students. The Park Service has also agreed to spend some $8M in federal funds to rebuild the historic black Langston Golf Course North of RFK stadium;
o HUD will help DC's Housing and Community Development Department demolish 100 boarded up, abandoned houses in two seriously blighted neighborhoods;
o At the request of Delegate Norton, the Justice Department will also help cure the DC Department of Corrections embarrassing problems with parolees escaping from halfway houses. Hundreds remain at large;
o In response to a recently published GAO report, which claims that DC is at risk of not meeting its Y2K requirements in time, OMB will provide some $60M in federal funds to get on with the required computer upgrades, suggesting that even more funds will be made available if the first amount is well spent.
o Under a new bill sponsored by subcommittee chairman Tom Davis, the federal government will pick up the out-of-state incremental costs of letting 1000 DC high school graduates per year attend neighboring state colleges at the resident rates.
In late August, 1997, the Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act, commonly referred to by the press as the "DC Rescue Plan". It has been roundly denounced by DC's racially-focused "re activists", but is being recognized as a long-overdue "wake-up call" by concerned citizens of all persuasions who believe that "this is a propitious time for us to engage in authentic public dialogue regarding the future of the District." In their recent Washington Post OpEd piece, Dwight S. Cropp and Julius W. Hobson, Jr., two prominent, thoughtful, African-Americans long associated with DC affairs go on to say that:
"Thus, our major task must be the removal of any impediments or excuses for continued denial of full autonomy to District residents, inefficient public services, corruption, low-achieving schools, mismanagement, and low voter turn-out at the polls. We can think of nothing more important than the task of resurrecting the District of Columbia to its important status as both the nation's capital and a fine place to live."
NARPAC, Inc. strongly supports this view as necessary, if not sufficient. It is by no means clear that the process of unravelling the old fabric of DC governance and fiscal abnormality is complete so that the weaving of an all-new mantle can begin. We believe this "DC Rescue Plan" contains both good and bad news, and that cooler heads have yet to realize how much remains to be done.
The Good News:
The Bad News:
This page was updated on March 5, 1999
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