Editorials for 1999 and 2000 are filed here, most recent date first.


(12/00)GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS:--Half Full? Half-Empty? or Half Baked?
deals wth November's very good economic development news, poor progress in DC's quality of life, and half-baked long range planning and tax incentives legislation..

(11/00)IT'S TIME TO RIGHT A WRONG--America's Capital City Deserves Better from Congress
deals with the need for Congress to start addressing those inequities that only Congress can rectify--by improving and elevating its relations with DC.

(10/00)URBAN PRODUCTIVITY -- An Alien Concept?
deals with the need to come to grips with the revenues raised compared to the expenditures required in various areas of the city, noting that planning cannot become a local prerogative if paying for it remains somebody else's..

(9/00)DC Government Accountability: Essential--but No Simple Matter
deals with potential problems for the Mayor as he tries to invoke accountability among his top managers--and the consequences of failing to do so. .

(8/00)DC's FY2001 Budget: The Unvarnished Truth
commends the Mayor for adding resources to address neighborhood problems, and expand capital improvements, but deplores the lack of any substantive programs to increase governmental efficiency, exploit economic growth, or reduce the welfare caseload;.

(7/00)The Abuse of Political Oversight--When Overseeing Becomes Overstepping
NARPAC tries to establish realistic bounds on acceptable oversight between the legislative, the executive, and the electorate and expresses concerns for apparently increasing abuses and the consequent decline in the ability to govern.

(6/00)Scoring the Players, but Not Ranking the Team
NARPAC congratulates the mayor for establishing some sort of public accountability system for his senior staff, but laments the lack of any meaningful "scorecard" for ranking DC relative to other major US cities--and metro areas.

(5/00)Bellying Up To The Heart Of The Problem --Or Dancing Around it?
Many recent news items touch on the major sources of DC's embarrassing quality of life statistics. Virtually all the problem areas flow from the common source of debilitating poverty, concentrated in blighted residential slums. Where is the national, regional, and local leadership to belly up to this fundamental problem of blight removal--common to DC and many other metro areas?

(4/00)DC 2000: First Quarter Earnings Report:
Too Many Politicians, No Statesmen

From the President and the Congress to the Council and the activists, actions are favoring expedience over long-term benefit. DC's stock may be overvalued, not by any lack of capabilities by the mayor, but by a top-heavy structure of management elements with no common vision of the city's destiny

(3/00) Keeping the Passengers Happy in Flight--
--While Fixing the Engine out on the Wing

restoring faith in DC will require better big-picture planning; government competence; more private investment; more regional cooperation; and a new national focus on metro areas

(2/00) Balancing Ideology and Reality
--The Finest of the Democratic Arts

problems with DC schools require a particularly fine school board: 'value added' by the schools is limited--school performance scores and largely neighborhood performance scores.

(1/00) Year Six in DC's Revitalization
twelve general objectives and specific goals for the mayor for 2000--from better management and better planning, to better cooperation with the DC Council, regional authorities, and the Congress.

(12/99)Taking the Easy Way Out:
---DC's Control Board Does the Pussyfoot

serious problems still confront DC--it is inappropriate for the Control Board to ignore problems in productivity, blight removal, and regional problem sharing. A 'good cop, bad cop' relationship with the mayor may be more effective than just 'good cop, better cop'.

(11/99)Neighborhood Inputs in Urban Development:
Necessary but Not Sufficient

a great city needs the solid support of its neighborhoods, but it must be much more than the sum of those neighborhoods: it must develop a broad regional vision and judge special interests within that framework.

(10/99) Sitting in the Mess They Created
who wins and who loses when the Congress, through its counterproductive micromanagement, tried to play 'mayor superior' to DC's elected government?

(9/99) Washington, DC in 2010--Still an Urban Ecological Morass?
DC can never become a great city until its predatory bureaucracy, its dysfunctional health, education, and police services are revamped--and this may require the 'industrial strength tough love' of receivers like David Gilmore.

(8/99) One Man Makes a Real Difference
bad health, bad crime, and bad education flow inexorably from bad neighborhoods. Urban blight removal is a multifaceted task, but renovating DC's public and subsidized housing is an important place to start, and DC's Housing Authority Receiver, David Gilmore, has done an outstanding job.

(7/99) OK Congress, It's Time to Take DC More Seriously
It's America's Capital City--not a Congressional Hobbyhorse

Congress has a major opportunity to celebrate the city's bicentennial by upgrading and streamlining its oversight of DC, as well as other metro areas suffering from America's most persistent socioeconomic problem--alienation between the core cities and their more affluent suburbs.

(7/99) The Very High Cost Of Self-Interests
Congress, regional authorities, and even DC's own Council consistently act in their own narrow self-interests to the detriment of DC's future--major costs to the city are estimated from each quarter.

(6/99) OK Congress, It's Time To Take DC More Seriously
(see above--an earlier version of the same editorial)

(5/99)A Proper Role for the DC Council
the DC Council seems to lack a clear vision or either its unique or its ordinary municipal responsibilities, or of how to carry them out. A set of specific legislative topics is suggested under each of five separate aspects of a broad citywide vision.

(4/99) The Williams Expedition Leaves Base Camp
carrying a new map and old baggage

a litany of obstacles in the mayor's path as he attempts to scale the mountain of embarrassing problems facing the city is provided along with encouragement to keep trying.

(4/99) Developing the Mayor's Strategic Focus
a dozen questions are posed to the mayor associated with his acknowledged difficulty in maintaining a strategic focus in the light of near-term problems.

(3/99) It's the Quality of Government, Stupid
excessive jubilation over balanced budgets and business optimism should be tempered by the continuing depressed quality of DC life, produced very largely by a depressed quality of local government. The city must establish some quantitative indicators of how efficient local governments perform, not just by output measures, but by inputs as well.

(2/99) Color Commentary from the Stands
the mayor is given cheers of encouragement, but the DC Council is given a few claps and some catcalls, and the Congress is loudly booed for their actions during the opening weeks of the Williams administration. Lack of unrestricted support for the new mayor will make his job much harder.

(1/99) An Open Letter to DC's New Mayor:
six major criticisms of the current DC Government are spelled out with the exhortation not to neglect tough long-term executive and legislative changes for near- term political expediency.

Click here for a Quick Summary of 1997-1998 editorials

Half Full, Half Empty, and Half Baked
December, 2000

NARPAC's monthly commentary on the state of affairs in America's capital city is often split between reinforcing good news with optimism that the glass is at least half-full, and chiding DC for not reducing bad news--pessimistically asserting that the city's glass remains at best half empty. But there is a third and more troubling view. Some city actions seem necessary to get things started, but not sufficient to complete them properly. This "good as far as it goes" view brands some actions as half- baked, or, more bluntly, half-assed.

November, 2000 brought far more good news than bad. DC's revitalization glass is surely filling. NARPAC is delighted to see the economic spotlight swing at least momentarily away from the northwest, out along the "" and "bio-tech" corridors, to the southeast, towards and beyond Anacostia, gateway to the Southeast Quadrant of the DC metro area.

DC has now committed $850M in investment capital to jump start several communities east of the Anacostia. This is a vital first step, and is helped by renewed efforts to get the Camp Simms redevelopment off dead center, and to find new tenants for the vacant Buzzards's Point eyesore. The southern extension of Metro's Green Line will soon open (ahead of schedule) paving the way for further economic growth--just as its northern extension will contribute strongly to the rebirth of Georgia Avenue.

Equally important, large, hi-tech investments are now pouring into the Annapolis area. Officially outside the Washington Metro area, Maryland's capital is only two miles further from the US Capitol (by crow) than Dulles Airport, and absolutely key to the area's--and DC's--balanced growth.

But November also brought bad news: continued indecision about DC General Hospital; spectacular inefficiencies in DC's Special Ed program; unresolved problems for the mentally ill; more dysfunction in DC's workforce. The good news centers on economic development, the bad news reflects DC's inability to improve its quality of life by ministering to the 25% of its population that the Washington Post calls "the least amongst us".

But NARPAC's major disappointments flow from DC's apparently half-baked long-range planning. DC's planners show little if any overarching sense of DC as a) the nation's capital city, and b) the essential core of a growing metro area. And there remains an unfortunate predilection to bribe people and business to make DC their home through tax incentives that indirectly penalize those that have come of their own free will. If broad principles do not prevail over expedience, then mediocrity will prevail over excellence.

America's Capital City Deserves Better from Congress
November, 2000

Over the past few years the following facts have been established:

o DC residents are capable of electing a professional, non-partisan mayor;
o The DC Government has established reasonable budgets and lived within them;
o The DC Council has enacted several key business, tax, and civil service reforms;
o The DC Control Board has relinquished most controls and plans to become inactive;
o Most court-mandated receiverships have been returned to DC administration;
o DC political processes have made some wise changes in the public school system;
o DC has shed some state functions and backed away from coveting statehood;
o Federal Agencies are providing valuable assistance for many of DC's problems; and
o DC is dead serious about wanting--and deserving--better representation in Congress.

But despite DC's own efforts and those of the Federal Government:

o The major political parties remain unwilling to address DC's unequal political status;
o 4 Congressional subcommittees still meddle in DC affairs for personal political gain;
o Congress has exhibited flagrant conflicts of interest in its DC oversight functions;
o Congress has failed to inspire metro area cooperation to alleviate inner city distress;
o The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress must act to provide DC representation.

200 years after selecting our national capital city, it is high time for Congress to reorganize and elevate its constitutional oversight of DC. Congress must stop interfering in decisions that DC can make as competently as other US core cities. And DC residents deserve the same voting rights as other American citizens.

Congress should start addressing those inequities that only Congress can rectify:

* provide DC residents proper representation in the US Congress;
* remove oversight conflicts of interest that make DC a Congressional whipping boy;
* address urban/suburban inequities afflicting DC and many other US metro areas;
* engage all Americans in restoring national pride in their capital city.

The key first step in this process is for the new 107th Congress to establish a Commission specifically to address the long-range resolution of the primary policy issues that keep the District of Columbia from fulfilling its national potential.

October, 2000
Over the past five years the DC government has learned to operate within balanced budgets, and not to exceed authorized personnel levels. It is also struggling gallantly to introduce the concept of accountability into its work force. But the notion of productivity--i.e., increasing output per unit of available resource--seems an alien concept to many local agencies--including planners. The use of performance goals relating accomplishments to resources consumed is rare: there are none on the mayor's senior official 'scorecards' or among DC agency goals in the FY01 budget.

Ultimately, DC's most limited resource is its usable land--in square miles, acres, or city blocks. Correlating the 'yield' and the costs to achieve it for specific available acreage--a well known approach in agribusiness--is seldom addressed in urban areas, particularly at the ward or neighborhood levels. DC's residents increasingly insist that spending taxpayer dollars is a local prerogative, but that raising those tax revenues remains somebody else's problem. Balancing the ledgers of such a diverse city by ward or neighborhood is clearly impractical, but relying on neighborhood planning is impossible if it completely disregards local productivity.

NARPAC believes that tax revenues can be identified at the ward and census tract level, but doubts that expenditure data for schooling, public safety, public health, or public works has even been sought. Properly informed, responsible localities could clearly assess their demands for local services and explore means for increasing efficiency in providing the needed ones. They could slowly temper their natural urges to preserve community status quo--or return to status quo ante--and accept the need to increase revenue production right in their own backyards. Many local and area-wide approaches are available:

Accept the notion of 'infill' for vacant neighborhood properties by adopting realistic local zoning limitations, not exclusions;

Take the lead in enforcing the elimination and re-use of 'junk properties' that produce no revenues and discourage the influx of taxpaying households;

Resist turning every outdated building into an historic site as a petty subterfuge for defeating economic progress and community modernization;

Stop hawking 'gentrification' as an evil, when it is essential to the city's revitalization;

Stop using rent controls and regulations as an entitlement or social service, and foster home ownership and property improvement instead;

Accept the metro system as DC's major artery for economic growth and encourage high density development immediately around existing stations;

Exploit Metro's flexibility by seeking new entrances where current ones do not fully meet local needs, and recommend locations for added lines and stations;

Seek added mono- and multi-modal parking facilities, to more efficiently accommodate the most prized possession of American workers and consumers-- their cars;

Eliminate special tax breaks for those businesses most reliant on proximity to Capitol Hill and the Federal Government;

Consider graduated building height restrictions to permit taller buildings away from the federal enclave and nearer the District's boundaries;

Find ways to encourage non-profit institutions and government agencies to attract public benefit from visiting/using their tax-free facilities;

Oblige local and federal agencies to eliminate inefficiently used facilities and space such as half-empty schools and hospitals and surface parking lots;

Press federal agencies to either turn over hundreds of acres of prime, mostly surplus, properties (viz., Bolling AFB) for DC disposition or find highly productive uses for them;

Demand a level playing field for DC and its richer suburbs by reducing major inequities in affordable housing, special education, medical services and even park space;

Encourage residents to become as well informed on their city's income and expenses as they are on their own household finances--for instance:

Household Productivity:

o Wealthy households (10 homes/acre) generate about +$250,000/acre;
o Middle income households (20 homes/acre) generate less than +$100,000/acre
o Public Housing households (100 units/acre) generate about -$3,000,000/acre;
o High rise offices or hotels (xxx) can generate up to +$6,000,000/acre
o High rise apartment houses (xxx) can generate up to +$4,000,000/acre

Individual Productivity:

o Wealthy taxpayers each generate up to $16,000 more than they consume in taxes;
o Middle income taxpayers each generate up to $2200 over consumption;
o The poor each consume up to $12,000 in local taxes (plus $9000 in fed'l taxes);

(*NARPAC estimates of net productivity--i.e., annual revenues less costs)

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY IN DC: Essential, but No Simple Matter
September, 2000

In August, Mayor Williams required 1163 of DC's non-union managers to choose whether to take a demotion and retain job security, or transfer to the new Management Supervisory Service and risk dismissal for unsatisfactory work with two weeks notice with or without cause. Most of the 963 who have opted to remain supervisors will get pay raises of about 10% over their current salaries--ranging from $69,000 to $109,000. The 'existing' DC civil service system, unchanged from the federal system of the '60s (when DC got home rule) requires almost endless intermediate warnings and disciplinary steps. This revolutionary, but drastic, revision was in the works before Mayor Williams was elected, but the funds needed for the raises were omitted from the FY2000 budget!

Successfully getting DC's government managers to understand, accept, and implement accountability will be as difficult as it is vital. Agreement must be reached on satisfactory performance standards and on the consequences of failing to meet them. Supervisors must be willing and able to be tough, direct leaders and decision-makers, and workers must accept discipline, criticism, and in some cases humiliation. Skills are required to both exercise and respond cooperatively to authority. Such capabilities are best honed in business. In various other walks of life, hard work is discouraged, expressing criticism is unethical, and resisting authority a cultural imperative.

Developing meaningful performance standards is essential--presumably for comparisons with other jurisdictions performing similar tasks (particularly those competing for DC's residents). Output goals must be related to key budget-limited input resources-- people, dollars, and time (viz., patients treated per nurse, potholes filled per dollar, inspections made per day). None such now appear for senior officials or DC agencies. Efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and productivity may well be very foreign concepts to both entry-level workers and entrenched higher level civil servants. Government must evolve into a competence-based, competitive business-like operation, rather than a philanthropic source of employment--daunting though that this conversion may be.

Finally, accountability cannot be applied solely to upper levels of management and governance. On what basis can the Mayor reward or fire a non-performing manager if that manager cannot reward or fire some or all non-performing subordinates? The unfolding debacle at DC's General Hospital is a classic--but not isolated--case of "zero accountability" from bottom to top: from its comparatively over- staffed hospital work force, poorly skilled managers and run-down facilities, to the greedy CEO and indifferent board of the Public Benefit Corp; and from the top ranks of DC's Dept of Health and Finance Office, to the failed oversight of the DC Council and seemingly lackadaisical Control Board. Even DC's frenetic 'hyperactivists' failed to highlight the impending life-threatening disaster for the city's poorest.

It is not obvious that DC will embrace accountability with open arms and necessary comprehension. It is obvious that without it, DC government performance will remain somewhere between total dysfunction and embarrassing mediocrity.

DC's FY2001 BUDGET: the Unvarnished Truth
August, 2000

For most American governmental jurisdictions, the annual budget books are the best record of recent expenditures and firm future plans. Ignored by most constituents, including hyperactivists expecting instant reactions from the bureaucracy, these books spell out exactly how existing programs will continue, and how new programs will take wing. They also demonstrate the delays implicit in the budget approval process.

DC's 2001 budget was drafted in late 1999, finalized (3 months late) in the spring of 2000, modified by the Control Board and DC Council, and submitted to Congress in early summer. Approval is unlikely before October. Only then--at the earliest--can new programs begin to implement decisions (and promises) made since the previous budget was submitted in early '99. Initial results may well not be visible until mid 2001, and take one to three years to complete. The decision cycle is little different for Star Wars, the new Wilson Bridge, or DC's fifth firefighter.

NARPAC has reviewed more than a thousand pages of stultifying numbers and prose to find out where the Mayor and Council hope to take the city in the near- term.

Some of the news is good:

o Plans and promises to respond to neighborhood wishes appear to be well covered in the budget, but in many cases, results will not begin to appear until 2001;

o The city has made great strides in laying out a 6-year plan for capital expenditures that should eventually produce major improvements in DC's infrastructure;

o Specific economic development objectives are beginning to show up in funding profiles, including a key new initiative for "brownfield remediation";

o "Performance goals" for many (but not all) agencies are included in the budget documents, but it is too soon to compare past goals with actual performance;

Some is bad:

o There is no proof that the city still plans to improve the basic efficiency of providing city services. The clearly oversized DC workforce will continue to grow faster than either locally- or federally-generated revenues;

o Although the city promises them better care, it projects no reduction in the very large number of disadvantaged souls in the foreseeable future;

o The 5-year budget projections (normally NARPAC's favorite bellwether) are essentially meaningless, except to demonstrate that a barely balanced budget can be projected indefinitely under "business-as-usual" trend line assumptions; and

o Last year's promised "benchmarks" for comparing DC's governmental efficiencies to those of other relevant jurisdictions have been delayed. They are unlikely to be included--much less reacted to--next year for even half the city's functional tasks.

To the extent this budget commits to begin satisfying local neighborhood interests in 2001, it is an encouraging document, but to the extent it fails to demonstrate any firm intent to improve the city's economic foundations or the productivity of its bloated, often non-responsive, workforce before 2002 or 2003 at the earliest, it is a great disappointment.

--When Overseeing Becomes Overstepping
July, 2000

American governance involves a remarkable set of checks and balances which coalesce into a complex, 'closed-loop' system. It effectively prevents extremes: from sudden and radical policy shifts, to long-term malevolence or incompetence at federal, state, and local levels. This layered system could never collapse into 'anarchy'--in the classic sense. The real risk is a gradual failure to keep up with inevitable socio-economic change by wasting more and more energies in "friction" at the interfaces between the co-equal legislative, executive, and elective functions. This systemic 'entropy' could eventually arrest our national ability to adapt to changing needs.

Oversight is an essential ingredient in these interface exchanges, but it is not direct supervision. There is a significant, often misunderstood, difference. Dictionaries offer three separate definitions for "oversee" including: "survey or watch over"; "inspect and examine"'; and "manage or supervise". Surely the founding fathers' concept of the separation of powers did not intend any branch to step into the day-to-day chain of command of another branch at will (i.e., in today's parlance, to "micromanage" those agencies). In fact, oversight works both ways at each interface.

There are lubricants to keep this massive, but finely balanced locomotive moving at the speed of, and in the direction of, the collective national will. They include: informed participation in the business of democracy at every level; acceptance of established rules of conduct; civility and maturity in public behavior, and knowing when to relinquish a minority cause. At its best, oversight can add value to the governance process across its boundaries--as a catalyst, provider, or reinforcer. At its worst, it can generate polarization, delay, and stalemate. In between lies the "rough and tumble" of American politics as elected lawmakers make their "sausage"--the laws to be implemented by the executive for the benefit of the electorate.

Legislative oversight can provide substantial "value added" for the executive, reacting to valid executive needs by offering incentives, financial assistance and guidance. Sensing malfunction, they can intervene in many ways: ask questions; with-hold funds; call investigative hearings; require independent analyses and audits; appoint receivers, and so on. But they should not assume executive functions.

Executive oversight can prevent legislative excesses-- offering more palatable language--or its own legislative agenda. Presidents, governors, and mayors can "jaw-bone" from their "bully pulpits", often with the strongest political voice. They can veto--or question the legality of--objectionable bills, request referenda, and issue execu-tive orders. But they cannot order bills be passed or shelved, or fail to abide by them.

The hierarchal balance is made more difficult by two basic legislative perroga-tives, enacting a) the final laws of its jurisdiction, and b) the bills required to fund them. Appropriations bill 'language' often qualifies as micromanaging (i.e., "thou shalt not spend any of this money on xxx"), when it oversteps its "power of the purse". Abuses of legislative "oversight" can take many forms, from applying partisan politics; demagoguery; pandering to special interests, and power mongering; to exercising blatant conflicts of interest; usurping the functions of others; and punitive demands for effort and data. Executive abuses include ignoring the proper roles of legislators and valid interventions to express concerns, develop new legislation, etc. Adding such entropy can result in adopting unrealistic compromises, or killing needed legislation, thus stalling progress, and degrading interagency goodwill and public trust.

Between government and the electorate, there are many ways for the legislative and executive to watch over the condition, opinions, and compliance of the electorate--from opinion polls and surveys, to extensive government data gathering and analysis. Such data become the basis for passing new legislation, and adjusting the administration--and funding--of current laws. And here, the executive branch does have the authority to require that the electorate comply with the laws of the land.

In turn, voters can "oversee" their elected representatives by watching the news, voting intelligently, offering their views on new issues, and abiding by existing laws. In extremis, they can petition the courts to recall an elected official or take over a dysfunctional executive agency. But voters cannot order legislators to do anything.

Abuses by the electorate include unwillingness to accept majority rule or executive authority. A new form of anarchy can evolve if the electorate simply ignores its duly constituted government. Special interest activists often work tirelessly to impose tiny minority views, reverse unfavorable decisions, delay decision-making and hobble enforcement. They enjoy harassing the bureaucracy and "heaping invective" on duly elected officials, oblivious to their own ignorance of government procedures. They frequently overstep the limits of customary civility and the rules of the game.

There is little difference between Congress ordering DC not to spend its own tax revenues on needle exchange programs or better voter representation, the DC Council ruling on the most kids that can be in a school, or the least cops out on the street, and activists inflaming racial paranoia. They may assume the right to do it, but they are breaking the accepted rules of the game--and overstepping their democratic roles.

DC regularly falls victim to such abuses at federal and municipal levels--and the 2000 season is well underway. As participants overstep their roles more frequently and more venomously, egged on by increasingly strident activists and superficial media reporting, the engine of our national capital city's governance grinds down, and our ability to adopt needed changes at home and across the metro area weakens further.

June, 2000

Several major initiatives for DC were kicked off in May. 1) The proposed board for the National Capital Revitalization Corporation was announced by the mayor and the White House. It is chartered to manage the development of major land parcels, and to operate others. 2) The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative project, a joint effort by some 20 DC and federal agencies, held its first public meetings to get citizen inputs on developing both banks of the Anacostia River to "world class standards". This would eventually open up access to, and interest in, the least productive 40% of DC's land--its Southeast quadrant. 3) The DC Housing Authority presented its $118 million plan for razing and rebuilding DC's largest remaining public housing slum, Capitol East. 4) The windows of the 161-year old Tariff Building in the middle of downtown DC were "unboarded" as renovation began on converting the property to a first class hotel. 5) Renovation also began on two historic neighborhood theaters, and fund-raising continued for converting the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square into a museum for DC. Economic momentum far exceeds that of municipal governance.

And finally, the mayor kicked off his long- awaited "scorecard" system by which his top lieutenants would be held accountable for performing certain finite, quantifiable tasks by year's end. For instance, the Chief of Staff will engage 4000 citizens in Neighborhood Action fora; the Police Chief will achieve a 65% homicide closure rate; the Deputy Mayor, Safety and Justice, will board up 1,500 (more) nuisance properties; the Department of Health will open 3 school-based teen health clinics. And so on.

A disappointed NARPAC thinks the mayor punted on this key management issue. There is no hint of the consequences of failure. (Just this month the interim fire chief was permitted to resign--after exceeding his budget limits, and the CFO got transferred to an equal paying federal job at DC's expense--after producing DC's budget 3 months late.) The scorecard tasks ignore many of the city's most pressing problems (e.g., the head of DoH is not obliged to stop the hemorrhaging at DC General Hospital). There appear to be no financial goals. There are no accountability standards for: long-range planning (even for transportation); helping agencies in receivership; stimulating DC Council productivity; improving regional cooperation; or encouraging appropriate Congressional oversight.

But most serious in NARPAC's view is the lack of any meaningful scorecard for the whole team effort. There are no output measures by which DC governance can be compared to other regional, national, or foreign jurisdictions. DC simply is not Cape May, NJ, or Tuscaloosa, AL. America's capital city is a national embarrassment not because it has pot holes, poor folks, crime, and wasted kids, but because it sits in the shadow of the nation's federal capitol, spending more local tax dollars, receiving more federal aid, and hiring more municipal workers, but producing far worse quality of life statistics-- some near Third World levels--than its neighboring jurisdictions. And DC's performance pulls down the rankings--and prestige--of the Greater Washington Metro Area relative to other US metro areas.

The mayor's own scorecard is little short of a farce. Many agencies appear still to be missing ,in part, presumably, due to the Control Board's continued authority--viz., public schools and finance office. (And the DCPS does have its annual test scores.) The mayor testified to his Senate overseers that he scaled back his scorecards to exclude any task over which he lacked total control, and any comparative quantitative measures which might not be totally "accurate". Contrary to promises, comparative performance measures also appear absent from his FY2001 budget presentation. Perhaps the dog ate the real reasons.

Without reservation, NARPAC congratulates the mayor for starting the process of achieving accountability at the top, and indeed, for stating his intent to seek a second term because he can't accomplish his objectives in one. Clearly, his reach still exceeds his grasp. But as stark realism continues to set in, a recalcitrant bureaucracy finds and exploits his vulnerabilities, and petty resistance saps his energies, his goals may be further eroded--and the team won't even know why it didn't make the play-offs.

--Or Dancing Around it?
May, 2000

The early months of 2000 have brought an unusual number of news items touching on the major sources of DC's embarrassing quality of life statistics. Virtually all the problem areas from poor health and poor schools to high crime and high taxes flow from the common source of debilitating poverty, concentrated in blighted residential slums.

The high costs of poverty can be measured in terms of wasted human lives: people who remain uneducated, unemployed, unable to support themselves for life, if not for generations. Not only do they prey on each other, but on those around them. And those around them often benefit quite handsomely from ministering to their misfortunes.

The high costs of poverty can also be measured financially. 30% of DC's current population receives some municipal or federal aid. Perhaps 40% of the city's budget is spent on the disadvantaged. There are only 1.5 taxpaying households to pay the bills for each welfare recipient. More than 30% of the city's payroll goes to ministering in some way to the poor. Only two of the city's eight wards produce more revenues than they consume in these services.

Poverty is not, and should not be, a crime. Perpetuating it should be, but is not. Bottling up poverty in sub-standard living conditions in isolated parts of an inner city virtually assures that it will grow and become more difficult to dissipate.

Breaking the cycle of poverty and its consequences requires tough actions, both to eliminate the concentrations of squalid neighborhoods--and those who benefit from them--and to assure the availability of alternative living conditions which stimulate hope, ambition, and opportunity.

The availability of "affordable housing", public, subsidized, or private, throughout the metro area, (not necessarily evenly distributed, but close to the sources of realistic employment--and public transportation) is the sine qua non, coupled with the elimination of isolated, dysfunctional ghettos.

The news stories appear, but NARPAC sees little indication of a groundswell to take the needed tough steps to assure a major and permanent change:

1. DC's Housing Authority is soon to come out of receivership, ending a remarkable revitalization of DC's public housing stock--but there is little assurance that it will survive a return to business-as-usual;

2. DC has finally begun to spotlight the criminal negligence of dozens of DC slum landlords, declaring some slum properties unfit for human habitation. But it seems to be backing away from evictions as the liberal activists (and Council) side with the hapless tenants. The city seems anxious to conceal the identity of the offending landlords and to lack the legislative authority to confiscate the properties--even for non-payment of utilities bills.

3. Eviction threats bring attempts to rekindle the racial paranoia of "gentrification"--in which the poor minorities are expelled to make room for upscale homes for richer whites. One prominent local minister felt obliged to warn the mayor that such neighborhood upgrading could bring racial unrest to the streets this summer, even though some of Ward 8's poorest residents are discovering the advantages of gentrifying their own communities for their own use.

4. DC has also begun to focus on the thousands of dilapidated or abandoned properties that provide the seed to propagate new blighted areas. There are now near-term promises to raze some, and board up others as a "scorecard" item of two senior DC government officials.

5. Increasing home ownership is one of the mayor's many goals--as a means of neighborhood revitalization. Many organizations are working to improve the availability of credit and other incentives. Nonetheless, DC is one of the last major US cities to retain rent controls, and there seems to be no concerted movement to eliminate them--instantly or gradually.

6. Prince George's County, next door, has expressed alarm over the rising immigration of DC's dispossessed. Its County Executive has called for a regional solution to what he now recognizes as a regional problem. But the wealthier metro counties show little interest, and provide very little affordable housing. And DC's mayor has yet to press openly for regional solutions.

7. The Metro Washington Council of Governments has called for the metro area to accept the regional nature of poverty-sharing, but the governors of Maryland and Virginia are unwilling to use their budget surpluses even on obvious transportation needs. Tax cuts appear more likely than poverty-sharing, despite the impact of workforce shortages on their economic growth.

8. The federal government has adopted a major new grant program (Hope VI) for housing/neighborhood revitalization, but there are no apparent penalties for states that choose not to pursue making affordable housing available. This tends to improve existing neighborhoods, but not to redistribute those needing help and hope.

9. In Congress, DC's indefatigable Delegate Norton is introducing legislation that would transfer to DC some federal revenues from taxes on income earned by commuters to DC. This would help level the regional financial playing field, but mainly by facilitating DC's ability to sustain the socioeconomic imbalance. However, DC's most powerful Congressional overseers represent the richest neighboring jurisdictions, and they have repeatedly denied regional revenue-sharing--to protect their own constituents. There is no indication that Congress is willing to remove such conflicts of interest or its micro-oversight of the nation's capital city.

Where is the national, regional, and local leadership to belly up to this fundamental problem of blight removal--common to DC and many other metro areas? Without it, we will keep dancing around the issue, doing the shuffle, the half-step, the side step, and the pussyfoot.

Too Many Politicians, No Statesmen
April, 2000

Some European countries require earnings reports from their corporations only once a year. US stockholders demand an accounting on corporate profit and loss every 90 days, forcing business strategies to be much shorter term. Applying this same impatience to DC, analysts would have to conclude that the current quoted value of stock in the nation's capital city is overpriced compared to its long range outlook, due primarily to lack of corporate cohesion and vision.

While 'product acceptance' and 'near-term sales' appear at present to be firmly on the rise, private sector enthusiasm may well be sapped by public sector myopia. None of the eight tiers of 'corporate management' influencing the mayor's freedom of action show the slightest long-range vision for our nation's capital city:

The President made no mention in his State of the Union address of the need to continue the reforms started five years ago, nor did he mention the city's bicentennial (which apparently will be celebrated by one circus parade, two pop concerts, and repairs to one public golf course);

The Federal Courts have again ruled that DC residents have no constitutional rights to full representation in the US Congress. They have also saddled the city with several receivers who, unlike David Gilmore, the shining exception, have failed to use their considerable powers to improve the dysfunctional organizations they preside over;

Congressional oversight is still performed by four disparate subcommittees which show no signs of raising their sights to the common national metro area problems of which DC is but a part. Partisan interests of the committee chairs are at best slightly veiled. DC's non-voting delegate does a remarkable job in getting some attention to DC, and is at least partially responsible for many new federal funding initiatives. But like the institution, her focus is on short-term, expedient initiatives seemingly unrelated to any master goals;

State and County Governments continue to turn a blind eye to the long range needs of what should be the nation's premier metro area, placing tax cuts ahead of essential long-range improvements in regional transportation, poverty-sharing, blight removal, health facilities, or even welfare. Fears that some of DC's inordinate number of poor might seep out into the suburbs are paramount, and contribute to their failure to provide affordable housing for their own relatively few disadvantaged. The Council of Governments (and its DC representative) appear almost totally ineffective;

. DC's Control Board is focused on keeping a low profile, and seems unwilling to or incapable of providing any real leadership. Its sole public objective appears to be to work itself out of business. It espouses no positive vision of the future role of the nation's capital city or its metro area;

DC's City Council is regularly showing its preference for local political grandstanding at the expense of providing the city's new mayor with the basic legislative tools needed to cure the deep-seated problems in his still-oversized municipal bureaucracy. Again, there is no visible Council interest in forming or implementing any particular long-range vision for the city. Rather, it panders to small, vociferous special interests, whipping up ad hoc emergency legislation with no foundation in any recognizable long-range city plans or convictions. Its half-baked compromise on changing the DC School Board is a case in point;

The City Government is led by a new kind of mayor with the best of populist intentions but he now appears swamped by the short-term problems that his staff--even with four deputy mayors--seem incapable of resolving. It remains a mystery as to whether Mayor Williams has a cohesive long-range strategy (beyond his commendable Anacostia River initiatives now to be federally funded). But it seems clear that the 'veneer of competence' within his bureaucracy--from finance and public works, to health and public safety-- is very thin indeed. Few problems appear to be solved outside his office--and few of his orders followed. His seeming preoccupation with 'neighborhood interests' will almost certainly circumscribe his ability to implement any grand vision for a new kind of core city for a 21st century metro area. There is no evident linkage between government objectives and the need to improve the city's economic 'productivity'--by raising revenues and lowering expenditures;

And DC's special interest activists continue to raise noisy objections to virtually every decision made by their elected and hired officials. Never have so many been so unwilling to abide by majority rule or executive authority--invoking the name of 'democracy' or 'human rights' to the point of trivializing both. The notion that a cohesive, exceptional--or even competitive-- institution, be it a large business or a capital city, can be built on a foundation of negativism and small, fragmented clusters of special interests, is simply insupportable. Even the city's prestigious Committee of 100 (now well over 200) prides itself almost exclusively on the proposed developments it has either stopped or compromised.

In short, DC's stock may currently be selling well above it sustainable level. Its true, lower, value is set not so much by any lack of capabilities by the mayor, but by a top-heavy structure of management elements with no common vision of the city's destiny.

March, 2000

DC's somewhat funky new mayor gets through his hectic days with a sense of humor and a penchant for metaphors. Some days he's leaving base camp to scale a 200,000 foot mountain. On others, he's playing pro ball.

NARPAC particularly sympathizes with Mayor Williams' analogy wherein he is a senior pilot (of National Capital Airlines?), out on the wing of his aircraft (a DC- 2000?) trying to fix a dysfunctional engine--in full flight. In our view, he isn't getting much help: Federal ground controllers keep sending him spurious advice; an FRA inspector is looking over his shoulder; nearby airlines are withholding help because they don't want some of his passengers; and his cabin crew won't give him the tools he needs.

And what about the passengers--are they panic-stricken? Not according to a recent inflight poll (Washington Post Feb 13). More than three quarters of the passengers think the pilot knows what he's doing, is going in the right direction, and is improving their national image. Three quarters say they wouldn't bail out if they could. The only disgruntled ones--besides a few noise-makers--are some that had to leave their excess baggage behind at take-off, and others that fear theirs might be jettisoned next. Only half claim to have any idea where's he's going, but a large majority like his open-cockpit policy.

In fact, among most passengers, only three top priority concerns are heard--all short term. They'd like him to fix the engine so they can a) feel safer; b) get better inflight educational programs for their kids; and c) enjoy better cabin service for themselves. Strapped in, very few feel detached enough to focus on longer-term issues like govern- ment efficiency, race relations, statehood, a bigger voice in Congress, poverty, social services, traffic, balanced budgets, tax reform, attracting residents, or national image.

But what about concerned persons watching from the ground--stockholders who want their National Capital investments to grow and be respected worldwide? Less directly involved in the ongoing trauma, their concerns are longer range: have they been polled too? No, but those at NARPAC agree that a) the popularity and success of Pilot Williams should be heartily applauded--supportive passengers are essential, but b) the airline's ultimate success in a free market economy depends on more than the inputs of passengers and crew: it requires the confidence of the American traveling public.

Restoring faith in the airline will require better big-picture planning; administrative and fiscal competence; a strong appeal to voluntary private investment; more inter-airline cooperation; and a few new national safeguards. Up in the air, they may still be preoccupied with fixing the engine, but somebody should begin addressing the broader implications, now that this mid-air crisis appears averted--by a truly unique pilot!

February, 2000

Few Americans would rail against our democratic ideology. But fewer still would claim it is the perfect management tool for curing all societal ills. The deeper the illness, the more urgent the cure, and the less likely the normal democratic process can fix it. In fact, that process has no parallel in business, national security, public safety, medicine, science, religion--or even parochial schools.

Democracy is remarkably tolerant of deadlock, demagoguery, compromise, and procrastination, as well as antipathy among candidates, indifference among voters, dysfunction in government, and harassment by vocal activists. But democracy is in no way undermined when skilled people are appointed (by elected officials) to remedy serious problems. The first two recipients of NARPAC's HATS OFF awards acted in such a role: the court- appointed receiver of DC's Housing Authority, and the Congressionally-appointed Executive Director of DC's 'Control Board'.

Contrary to local ideologists who fear the sky will fall if the elected school board is disbanded, NARPAC thinks DC's democratic process is hard at work. Nudged by their overseers, DC's elected mayor and Council are slowly--and awkwardly--converging on a realistic plan to rescue the DCPS from their predecessors' collective mistakes. DCPS 'output' is surely a national disgrace needing emergency assistance, and justifying suspension of democracy's normal cumbersome, all-inclusive process.

All DC--not just its school system--is turning mostly disadvantaged youth into mostly second-rate adults unable to compete in our changing national socioeconomic milieu. Were these 'products' toys, appliances, or cars, they would be subject to mandatory recall. Were they chemical spills, they would be subject to emergency remediation. DCPS needs all the professional, apolitical help it can get from inside and outside DC. Such help can only be appointed. One person must be in charge, accountable, and overseen. Everyone else must march to that drummer, and accept his challenges

: The first challenge is to appoint a broad-based board of truly regional/national reputation for fixing troubled systems. NARPAC notes that controversy over the mayor's UDC Board choices focused on the one clearly political appointment, ignoring the more qualified appointees--none of whom would have run for election to that job.

The second challenge is to set criteria for declaring when the crisis is over and when more democratic control can be restored. Four years of balanced budgets has been one realistic precondition for DC's Control Board to become inactive. NARPAC suggests that 'normal' control of DCPS be reconsidered when the average grade performance of all DC public schools has, for four straight years, risen to the national average. Surely our nation's capital city should settle for no less than the solid American norm--even though it is about 20% below that of our own metro area's suburbs!

But the third--and certainly most difficult--challenge is to fully accept that the "value added" to children by their school system alone is at best limited, and is heavily influenced by factors in their environment outside the school system's purview. Adding resources and expertise to the school system and its budget, for instance, may be less productive than equivalent investment in blight removal, affordable housing, public safety and health, family support, and/or adult education and job training.

In reality, school performance scores are in large measure neighborhood performance scores--an issue way beyond the capacity of a local elected school board or the superintendent of schools. The whole city must mobilize its resources to restore pride in its kids' futures. DC has all the democracy it needs to do that, but it will have to agree to place reality above ideology for the immediate future.

January, 2000

There is some question as to whether Jesus Christ was born exactly 2000 years ago, some dispute over when the third millennium begins, and some disagreement as to the 200th anniversary of the birth of our nation's capital. But there should be little uncertainty that this is Year Six in the revitalization of our nation's capital city.

By this calendar, Years One through Four were directed by the Control Board. 'The Authority' performed a very successful rescue; pulling DC from its financial ditch and getting its management engine started without wreaking additional damage. Year Five elected a new driver who has very successfully gotten in gear, turned around, and headed up the road to recovery--with the Authority approving from the roadside.

Year Six will disclose whether the driver is heading along the shallower road toward Mediocrity, or up the steeper path to Excellence. NARPAC hopes to gage his progress past a series of milestones along that steeper slope. Twelve general objectives and specific goals for 2000 are outlined below:

Coalesce Top City Management
stable top organization, few top personnel changes, clearly distributed accountability

Energize Middle City Management
gain flexibility in hiring, firing, rewarding, streamlining, competing

Motivate the City Workforce
adopt/enforce 'scorecard' for both input and output measures of productivity

Integrate DCPS into City Management
help revamp school board, add superintendent to Mayor's cabinet

Accelerate Urban Blight Removal
major continued efforts in both human and material blight remediation citywide

Define Key Short-Range Economic Programs
clear development decisions on a few crucial tracts: NoMA; SBDC; St. Elizabeth's

Complete Long-Range Transportation Plan
major new plans for Metro upgrade, parking facilities, radial gateway enhancements

Initiate Long-Range Land-use Plan
Seek new, productive uses for large federal, municipal, and non-profit agency holdings

Codify Formal Involvement of DC's Neighborhoods
institutionalize means to get balanced, serious neighborhood inputs on local issues

Demonstrate Mature Relations with DC Council
Devise procedures--and staff--to minimize grandstanding, histrionics on both sides

Establish Clear Regional Cooperation
Initiate specific projects for regional sharing of health, wealth, and poverty burdens

Encourage Revised Congressional Oversight
press for higher-level oversight with focus on common/unique regional issues

GO FOR IT, MAYOR WILLIAMS, you've got the horsepower!

December, 1999

DC's Control Board has quietly submitted its FY99 Annual Report to the Congress. It is an artful task to report progress in exercising unwanted oversight over a hyper- sensitive central city without doing more harm than good. But the Authority, as it calls itself, appears overly focused on city finances, and too little concerned with efficiently providing exceptional services. NARPAC finds several shortcomings:

  • The Authority does not refer to the impact of Congressional micromanagement of DC affairs, nor to providing Congressional representation for DC's "second-class" citizens. It asserts the out-year financial balance is still 'precarious' despite clear indications of economic recovery throughout the city. In fact, recovery expectations appear to be already outrunning accomplishments. All effect the long-term attractiveness for residents and businesses.

  • The Authority implies that DC's financial problems should be solved by revenue increases--not expenditure reductions. This ignores the key issues of decreasing the number of poor, and raising the efficiency of services to them. It's emphasis on raising revenues by increasing (hopefully taxpaying) residents--rather than taxpaying businesses seems dubious--particularly if those new residents increase demands on over-stressed city services, and need upscale places to live.

  • The Authority says nothing about productivity in providing normal municipal services, or the need for "Scorecard" indicators to compare their costs to other cities'. This cannot help the city negotiate with its entrenched bureaucracies. It's aims to get rid of all receivers and masters seems premature, particularly if only to improve budgetary control. Restoring requisite services--and competence--may indeed require continuing authoritarian actions.

  • The Authority does not mention sharing of the burdens of poverty, safety, education, and health within the metro area. Regionalism, once a staple of the Chair's urban philosophy, appears to have evaporated. It also ignores the need for controlling the helter-skelter build-up in economic development already underway. Proper city- and metro-wide long range land use planning is not mentioned.

The Authority states that it intends to shift its focus further towards economic development. This seems somewhat opportunistic. The tough problems involve dispersing widespread blight and increasing government productivity. NARPAC sees a strong need to maintain a "good cop, bad cop" team relationship between the mayor and the Control Board, not a "good cop, better cop" contest.

November, 1999

Although Congressional tinkering continues, and instances of municipal dysfunction still surface, the outlook for our nation's capital city has become very positive. But while the quality of life in DC is surely improving, progress beyond urban mediocrity is by no means assured.

Current momentum benefits from enthusiasm for the mayor's focus on neighborhood concerns, and a properly engaged electorate is certainly necessary for making lasting progress. But local inputs must be weighed in the context of developing the whole Washington area community, or the city's growth potential will be wasted.

All too often neighborhood majorities are preempted by vocal special interest factions. Local inputs often serve to perpetuate local inequities: poorer neighborhoods work against gentrification, and richer ones against lowered living standards. Renters contrive to keep property values low while homeowners try to raise them. Racial biases are more easily inflamed locally, and activists tend towards demagoguery. City authority can become the scapegoat for local ills.

Neighborhoods often feel threatened by developments out of scale with their immediate locale, seldom welcoming broader streets, larger carparks, more metro stops, higher density living, or bigger businesses. They organize to stop large projects--often revenue-producers--but initiate only minor ones; demanding city resources but accepting no responsibility for generating them. While extolling grass roots democracy, they often fail to vote in local elections, then rail against those elected.

Ad hoc urban development initiatives by city authorities clearly do not work either, be they business, non-profit, municipal or federal facilities, road or parking schemes. Major projects--and fresh ideas--presented outside some comprehensive plan become justifiably vulnerable to neighborhood rejection. Suspicions of pandering to unidentified special interests at the municipal or regional level can quickly destroy hard-earned, but often fragile, confidence in city leadership.

A great central city must have solid support from its neighborhoods, and NARPAC applauds the mayor's current initiative. But to excel, the city must be much more than the sum of those neighborhoods: it must conform to a broad regional vision accepted by a clear majority of its diverse stakeholders--inside and outside city limits. That plan must prevail over local special interests and provide the framework against which the merits of legitimate interests are judged. Only that framework can provide the common purpose for a lasting, flexible and productive structure sufficient to fulfill the vision of this region--as our unique national capital metro area.

October, 1999

It took four Congressional subcommittees and then one conference committee 6 months to decide how DC taxpayers should spend their own tax revenues. In the end the legislators approved the full content of DC's $4.7B budget, added about $90 million in useful sought-after funds , but then turned around and saddled the bill with a series of social agenda riders that are not law in some of the sponsors' states.

Responding to DC home rule enthusiasts, the President vetoed the bill, citing infringments on "local residents making their own decisions about local matters". NARPAC also urged him to do so. At this writing, a petulant Congress is threatening to remove the funding they added, along with some of the riders. They intend to move slowly on the revisions so that "the President and Democrats can sit in the mess they created", according to earthy House DC Subcommittee Chairman Istook (R-5th OK).

Who really benefits from this absurd process in which a few odd Senators and Representatives try to play Mayor Superior to DC's elected government?

o a few junior members without good committee assignments who gain notoriety by twitting the only US mainland jurisdiction lacking voting rights in their chambers;

o a few legislators who may curry favor with special interest groups by imposing on DC the dictates they have not been able to codify nationally; and

o a few partisan Capitol Hill politicos who enjoy exploiting divisiveness with the White House and between the parties.

And who loses out in this process?

o DC's disenfranchised citizens who deplore their enduring second-class status;

o DC's local leaders who deserve top-level attention on a grand vision for our national capital city (and metro area) and the legislation to achieve it;

o A Congress that demonstrates its failure to address its major responsibilities; and

o Americans everywhere who are denied a sense of national pride in their capital city.

It is Congress that is sitting in the mess it has created.

And the nation should be ashamed of it.

September, 1999

What would your kids like to see Washington DC become--as the nation's capital, as a central city, and as the core of a major metro area? This month, NARPAC kicks off an essay contest among DC metro area high school kids, and the winning essays will be posted here next April.

What the next generation wants, and what really happens ten years hence, depends crucially on decisions made much sooner. Even though DC retains its primary employment source (the Feds), its performance barely matches that of several other older US cities, which have lost their primary industries. DC's urban ecology has been distorted by voter-tolerated bureaucrats supporting their middle- class lifestyles on the backs of those they were hired to succor. This predatory cycle must be broken if DC is to achieve a quality of life profile better than that of a below-average inner city--and closer to that of its world-class suburbs.

DC's overstaffed, but dysfunctional health system consumes resources that could otherwise provide health insurance for the many needy at risk. DC's barely functioning police department uses twice as many uniforms per capita as, say, Pittsburgh, while still suffering a far higher crime rate--and incarcerating a far larger share of its disadvantaged youth into its overstaffed penal system. And DC's school system employs more staff per student to generate test scores 30-40% below those of their suburban counterparts, and produces many more graduates-- and drop-outs--permanently lacking modern marketable skills. DC remains an ecological morass that stifles production of the essential nutrients for healthy economic growth.

Reconstructing our capital city's public school system is surely one central prerequisite to changing DC's urban ecology. The recent bickering by DC's elected school board, the passivity of the emergency school trustees and Control Board, and the past indifference of the part-timers on the DC Council's Education Committee, collectively present a national embarrassment. There is no better place to start, and no more propitious time to start. Oversight, management, and planning for DC's public schools must be overhauled, and the whole school system incorporated as an integral part of the city's revitalized ecology.

NARPAC, Inc. recently awarded DCHA's receiver, David Gilmore, it's first HATS OFF Award for dedication and sensitivity in eliminating blight from DC's housing projects. The ceremony noted that his "industrial strength tough love" could only be provided by a receiver, and not by entrenched bureaucrats or vote-seeking politicians. The equivalent of court-appointed receivers are needed for DCPS--and other agencies.

We will find out next April what thoughtful students want for their city, capital, and metro area. We may not have to wait as long to learn what they are destined to get!

August, 1999

"The city is about to enter one of the most exciting and critical periods in its history. A reform mood abounds and the potential is real for our nation's capitol to rise to its rightful place as the preeminent community- in the land. So too, can it be said about the Washington DC public housing program. We are extremely well positioned to help catapult the city to that lofty height, and to set an example of leadership among our public housing peers." D. Gilmore, 1/15/99

On August 11th, 1999, NARPAC will present its first HATS OFF Award to David Gilmore, the person at the operational level who we believe has taken the most fundamental step in rehabilitating the nation's image of its capital city.

Many factors contribute to the lack of pride in America's capital city. Most basic are those that contribute to such poor living standards for so many. DC's quality of life statistics are way below the American average, even though the citywide data hide the extremes. Some DC neighborhoods enjoy the finest living standards in the US, while many others endure those of Third World countries.

There is no chicken-and-egg dilemma: bad health, bad crime, and bad education flow inexorably from bad neighborhoods, not the other way around. In medical terms these are cancers in the city's body--and mind. In chemical terms, these are toxic waste dumps. In political terms, these are "blighted areas"--once known as slums. DC's inner city blight has had many obvious causes: white flight in the fifties; race riots in the late sixties; declining government and blue-collar jobs in the seventies; overly attractive welfare benefits awarded by a naive new local government and the advent of truly affordable addictive drugs in the eighties, plus remarkable suburban opportunities for a new life for those blessed with mobility. But the largest concetrated- source of blight has been the ill-conceived public housing projects into which the city's least fortunate were drawn--and thereafter ignored.

Complete urban blight removal will be a multifaceted task, first attacking drug-use; poverty; despair; bad schools, seemingly endless rundown or abandoned properties; and dependence on the public dole. And eventually the city must develop bold, meaningful metro area-wide economic plans, and cooperative poverty sharing with DC's extraordinarily wealthy, almost blight-free suburbs. DC's new government has only begun to address some of these goals. But the key near-term goal must be to restore hope, self-respect, and pride to those dependent on public and subsidized housing, and to provide both paths to--and incentives for-- home-ownership across the entire DC metro area.

Fortunately for the capital city's future, the DC Housing Authority was the first local agency to fall into court-ordered receivership. Even more fortunately, Judge Graae appointed Mr. David Gilmore to the gargantuan tasks of uprooting, razing, rebuilding, redefining, and reorganizing all DC's housing units, including some of the city's most blighted properties. Although this process is inherently quite undemocratic, this Receiver has handled his authority with great sensitivity.

Some four years later, Gilmore's task is approaching completion, though his key recommendations to the City Council for new legislation to assure DCHA's independence remain "in committee". Nonetheless, he has made enormous tangible strides in the most fundamental long-term aspect of restoring pride to America's capital.

NARPAC proudly awards him its first HATS OFF award.

It's America's capital city--not a Congressional hobbyhorse
OpEd reprinted from "THE HILL", July 7, 1999

Our Constitution obliges Congress to "exercise exclusive legislation over such District as may....become the Seat of Government of the United States". It does not empower Congress to: let DC become a national embarrassment; keep it financially isolated and overtaxed; deny its residents voting rights; or manage its affairs through four separate subcommittees composed of the "dregs" of Congressional assignments.

Next year is DC's bicentennial. The city is under new management. Its Control Board is very satisfied with its financial recovery. It no longer receives direct appropriations from Congress. It deserves more respect and encouragement to become a symbol of successful American metropolitan life.

As part of its disposition of DC's Y2000 budget, Congress should establish clear preconditions for removing itself from micromanaging the city's affairs. It should lay the groundwork for replacing those counterproductive subcommittees with a single Joint Committee of the Congress in 2001.

This Joint Committee should raise its sights to focus on DC's unique problems of "statelessness", and on generic urban problems of growing American metro areas as well. Congressional action and inaction both contribute to the present lack of pride in America's capital city:

o It is demeaning and disheartening for those working to govern DC to be over- ruled by the quirks of individual members of Congress, imposing laws and regulations not applied in their own jurisdictions. Why should a Senator from Texas set DC Council salaries, or a Senator from Illinois determine DC's income tax rates?

o Congressional controls extend to approving mayoral appointments, and even to how many days (seven) the DC Council can deliberate before forwarding them. Many petty rules like these make the tasks of DC's fledgling new government more difficult, and should be eliminated;

o Mayors and city councils find it tough enough to manage American inner cities with 'help' from their state governments (or Control Board). Four additional bodies exercising conflicting prerogatives can make DC's difficult job impossible. Surely one joint committee should be able to keep our national capital city from running amok;

o It is "unAmerican" for a half-million DC residents to be subject to capricious outside legislative forces without representation in those same legislative bodies;

o It is inappropriate for subcommittee members with explicit jurisdictional conflicts of interest to deny DC the pursuit of equitable sharing of both the problems and the resources of America's premier metropolitan area. Why should representatives of DC's under-taxed suburbs dictate the revenue policies of their over-taxed core city?

o Congressional laws dictate city inefficiencies: DC must perform non- municipal functions such as national guard and mental health; accept inefficient land productivity due to building height restrictions; and exempt various Congressional personnel and federal appointees from city taxes. How do such abnormalities help DC, much less make it a model American city?

o The District--in fact the entire metro area--benefits greatly from hosting the Seat of US Government, but it incurs substantial uncompensated costs in city services and revenues lost to property tax exemptions. Why shouldn't the federal government pay some form of "rent" to its host city?

o Over half of DC's land acreage is tax-exempt for federal, municipal, foreign, or private non-profit use. There is as much federal land as taxable acreage in DC. Congress has made no effort to evolve public land usage that would contribute to DC's financial well-being. Why, for instance, should federal agencies--and jobs--be contributing- to suburban sprawl, rather than expanding into DC's empty, federally- owned eastern banks of the Potomac and Anacostia?

o Failure to level the playing field between inner cities and their suburbs is arguably America's most persistent socioeconomic problem--as well as DC's. Congress has been slow to provide incentives for neighboring US jurisdictions to seek regional solutions to regional problems (such as preferential regional federal grants for welfare or public housing). Many American inner cities would benefit from revised federal policies. Isn't this a proper role for Congress?

Congress has a major opportunity to help restore pride in America's capital before DC's 200th anniversary ends. Why pass legislation obliging the DC government to operate inefficiently for yet another year without the promise of greater national appreciation ahead? Establishing Congressional intentions to upgrade and streamline DC oversight would herald a truly new era of respect, empowerment-- and accountability--for American citizens disenfranchised by living in their nation's capital.

July, 1999
Published in Northwest (et al) Current, August 4, 1999

Washington's world-renowned monuments inspire visitors to our nation's capital with the hope and promise of the American dream. But the inner city that hosts these symbols reflects the dangers of political inequities. This very uneven political playing field helps explain why one of our richest core cities still produces some of the worst US health, crime and education statistics. DC's diminished base of resident taxpayers is as highly taxed as Americans anywhere, yet revenues and expenditures are badly skewed by costly accumulated conflicts of interest.

Congressional subcommittees consistently deny DC the right to tax non-resident income earned, contrary to practices in virtually every state. A two- percent tax on non-resident wages would bring in more than $400M.

Almost half of DC acreage is exempt from real estate taxes, as are the wages of some Congressional employees and Presidential appointees. Compensatory federal payments to DC in lieu of such taxes would reach $600M.

Congressional building height restrictions limit the productivity of DC commercial structures. Relaxing such height limits towards the edges of the city could increase land productivity by $375M per floor, per 100 acres.

Regionally, suburban jurisdictions have isolated their core city, leaving DC with 12% of the metro area's wealth and 60% of its certified poor, at a yearly cost of $1800M. Sharing the poverty burden equally could save DC taxpayers $1400B.

The effects of concentrated urban poverty on health, education, and safety have caused some DC taxpayers to emigrate. With regional poverty-sharing, a net influx of 50,000 upscale households could produce $750M yearly in local revenues.

At the local level, the DC Council places self interest above DC's overall welfare. To retain some claim to "statehood", DC still spends over $300M annually on non-municipal functions such as a state college and state-level mental health facilities.

The Council has ignored DC Tax Revision Commission advice to tax service indus- tries comprising a good share of DC's GDP. Taxing law firms, accountants, et al. could raise $210M, but some Council members work part time for them.

In a recent Post OpEd, the Council asserted its newfound independence "as an institution working for the betterment and future of the citizens of DC". It says it "knows how to collaborate with the mayor, the financial authority, Congress, the president and the surrounding governments in the region to achieve mutually shared goals".

Time to get started, Council members.

June, 1999

Under very different management, DC has now submitted a new kind of city budget for approval by its Congressional masters. It was produced by DC's newfound, if immature, democratic processes. It is a great improvement over past efforts and holds promise of getting even better. No direct appropriations are required or requested, and there is no need for a detailed authorization or appropriations process.

Congress has a clear opportunity to demonstrate that it too can accept the challenge to restore national pride in America's capital city. It should:

1. Short circuit the outdated and bizarre habit of micromanaging DC's elected local government. Approve DC's budget as submitted, without grandstanding or imposing personal quirks on the only US municipal jurisdiction that no full member of Congress represents. Our nation's capital should not be treated as some sort of private Congressional plantation;

2. Put its creative energies to work on a) providing a practical mechanism to give DC's quarter million voters proper representation in the US Congress--like all other Americans--and b) ridding all American inner cities of urban blight. Some of DC's circumstances are clearly unique, but many others are common to inequities in metro area growth across the US; and

3. Announce its intentions to replace the four competing "dregs" subcommittees with a more prestigious single Joint Committee of the Congress. It should focus on major systemic urban problems and be composed of senior members free from conflicts of interest in developing a properly balanced, exemplary American capital metro area. While DC may well lack any rationale foundation for seeking statehood, it clearly should not be denied the right to pursue 'metrohood'.

DC's bicentennial ends on December 31st, 2000. The 107th Congress will be installed a few days later to begin the new millennium. By then, the nation's capital city deserves a level political playing field for pursuing its new determination to become America's first city.

May, 1999

The DC Council has recently come under fire in several reports that describe an organization almost as dysfunctional as the former Barry bureaucracy. Three mayoral candidates Williams defeated still hold powerful committee chairs, and appear bent on slowing down or reversing his budget initiatives. The new mayor, trying to make sweeping changes throughout his administration, has shown little inclination to accommodate Council idiosyncrasies. The current debate over possibly premature tax cuts is a case in point. If the city is to succeed in the long- run--and become a model for other American central cities--a stronger sense of collaboration must emerge, and the sooner the better.

The Council seems to lack a clear vision of either its unique or its ordinary municipal responsibilities, or of how to carry out either set. It is not sized, staffed or organized to do a first-class job. Whereas the mayor has reached out to his counterparts elsewhere to learn how better to do his job, the Council has not.

More basic, the roles of American central cities are changing nationwide. It is not enough for DC to catch up to others' past challenges--it must get out ahead of the new ones. As NARPAC has pointed out repeatedly, many of DC's long-range problems flow from inadequate local (and federal) legislation. New or revised laws are needed in many areas.

Concerted efforts should be made to pass such "landmark legislation" before the end of the city's bicentennial next year. Here are NARPAC's suggestions for Council legislative topics, grouped under various elements of a broad city vision:

As unique host to the nation's capital, DC should aspire to being the nation's pre-eminent central city, reflecting America's national and international goals:

o engage national expertise to improve the professionalism of the local legislature;

o adopt relevant national or regional norms as minimum city performance goals;

o provide incentives for international participation in future municipal land use plans;

Without normal state-level administration and oversight, DC must develop alternative means to gain professional 'checks and balances' in a unique, but positive, fashion:

o seek suitable regional, federal agency assistance/oversight;

o work forcefully to earn and codify alternatives to current Congressional tinkering;

o establish formal review of DC election practices and Council composition;

As the core city of a model American metro area, DC should stimulate regional coop-eration to more effectively provide regional services and solve regional problems:

o specify targets for regional sharing of municipal tasks, including health, education, safety and justice, procurement, maintenance, welfare;

o fully support, fund, and staff regional analytical and operational organizations;

o require regional competitiveness in workforce performance, welfare benefits, etc.

As a normal American municipality in changing times, DC must develop and enunciate its business and residential goals within its evolving metro area:

o commission and ratify some sort of 'regional charter of natural advantage' laying out both urban and suburban priorities for attracting businesses and residents, using COG, NLC, or other recognized experts;

o undertake a major urban planning and re-zoning effort to increase the productivity of all city assets, independent of land ownership and special interests;

o reorganize the oversight of overlapping municipal functions such as schools, community development, and police activities;

o mandate prudent, balanced fiscal actions to modernize municipal taxation, spending, business and rent controls, tenancy rights, etc.;

o do not require regional tax parity: proximity to the federal government is taxable;

o establish priorities in shedding the many remaining non-municipal functions;

As a conglomeration of neighborhoods and special functional entities (embassies, non-profits, national institutions, etc.); DC must balance local and city- wide needs:

o establish quantitative goals for neighborhood modernization and consolidation--with incentives to increase local productivity;

o establish a meaningful Council conduit for receiving neighborhood views, but act consistently and in the context of city-wide interests;

o provide the mayor broad powers for local blight removal;

o require formal review of the propriety and extent of every special tax privilege citywide--and identify means to generate appropriate revenues from each;

carrying a new map and old baggage

VIEWPOINT OpEd in Northwest/Georgetown Current, May 5 1999

The newly-elected Williams-led expedition has left base camp to scale the mountain of problems embarrassing the nation's capital city. Mayor Williams has declared his mission is not to adjust the base camp's airconditioning but to restore pride in America's capital city by conquering the mountain.

This slightly quirky team leader starts his climb with: a new, albeit incomplete, route map; a mixed bag of green and seasoned guides; and a huge army of sherpas, long accustomed to carrying the same old baggage. (70% of DC's 5000 teachers have toiled over 20 years). DC2000 budget lays out both his dreams and his impedimenta.

Gamblers studying the baggage manifest could easily conclude the odds for reaching the top are not much improved by adding $279M to an already bloated $2.87B local budget, or by keeping almost 24,500 full time equivalent sherpas on the local payroll. But before predicting failure, speculators should grasp the new master plan as well as the near-field obstacles astride the route:

o A skeptical, impatient electorate demands immediate fixes. Heroic nearterm efforts require energizing the inplace workforce to fill potholes, clean streets and walls, kill rats, and raze vacant buildings;

o Hypersensitive racial re-activists swirl up suddenly like blinding snowstorms, turning well- intended forward steps (like UDC) into energy-consuming detours;

o Defeated mayoral candidates still chair key DC Council committees and threaten rockslides, but show little heart for passing reform legislation or strengthening the executive's footholds;

o Five committees of overseers hover above with little urban reform experience: a Financial Control Board ill at ease with quality of life issues; and four part-time Congressional subcommittees, some with regional conflicts of interest. Williams' desired budget is disguised as an alternative--just to meet outdated dictates from masters with authority but no accountability.

o The defensive, oversized bureaucratic work force, largely patronage-founded, has few incentives, little training, and no role models for converting itself--OJT--into a competitive merit-based team. The Williams plan provides long-neglected training and workplace upgrades, realistic job descriptions, and a promise of suitable pay rewards--whether or not unionized--for competitive performance.

o Two-thirds of Williams' sherpas belong to 38 separate bargaining units within several militant unions. They must be convinced that capable workers will be treated fairly in any future actions. The DC Housing Authority's new 3-year contract sets a very encouraging precedent, basing employee rewards on unit (not individual) performance against agreed targets.

o The work force has had no means to measure its own performance. To become America's pre- eminent city, what better guide than how other US peer cities perform? Williams' first budget starts this process: virtually every DC budget activity is now obliged to set and publish such targets.

[Example: DC Fire stations serve only 1.9 sqmi vice 8.5 for the 5-city peer average, and use 33 employees per 10,000 residents v. 14. Why should the DC2000 budget add $7M and 64 people? To bring service up to neighborhood expectations first -- and to taxpayer expectations later.]

o Increased capital investment is basic to conquering DC's mountainous problems. DC's new budget proposes near-adequate capital spending for six years in every applicable budget activity (viz., $620M for public schools, $130M for police, and $23M for fire and rescue).

o Alarming crime and education statistics prevent building a viable resident taxpayer base. Williams' budget adds substantial funding for school improvements, teacher pay raises, and police modernization. But it also adds long-range funding setasides to fix the kids' neighborhoods from which the problems stem. Small in dollar amounts, the eventual payoff can be huge.

Similar small initial investments are intended to eventually produce major changes in health care coverage and costs, and in small business tax relief. These too are not part of the budget to overcome initial obstacles. They are part of the plan to get to the top of the mountain.

Godspeed, Mayor Williams, You're going to make it.

April, 1999

When Washington's new Mayor took office on January 1, he stressed his intention to focus for six months on gratifying near-term needs of the citizenry. A few weeks later, having nudged out the Control Board's Chief Management Officer, Mayor Williams announced he would serve as his own Chief Administrative Officer for some period of time. A NARPAC editorial fretted that preoccupation with the near-term problems would defeat his longer-term, more lasting objectives.

In a recent press interview, the mayor acknowledged that he is having trouble juggling the two responsibilities and that maintaining a strategic focus is proving to be difficult. Hence hiring a city administrator--and a new financial officer--have become, he says, top priorities for the District and for his own well-being. And for the well-being of our nation's capital as well, Mr. Mayor.

We offer a dozen questions whose closely intertwined answers could shape the mayor's strategic focus:

1. Are you willing to use heroic bureaucratic measures to turn DC, a city that ranks "average" among the nation's worst inner cities, into national pre- eminence?

2. How will you induce the Congress to exercise its constitutional mandates over the DC without micromanaging the city into perpetual, voteless mediocrity?

3. Can you get DC's suburbs to share the costs of leveling the socioeconomic playing field, and if not, will you oblige them to share the problems?

4. How do you foster the emerging imperative of intra-metro area political cooperation when the US Congress is basically structured around states' rights?

5. How do you reshape the "urban image" to achieve a forward-looking balance of urban dwellers, urban workers, and urban visitors--based on free market choices?

6. Do you also intend to create a productive international presence in DC to reflect the city's role as the world ideological center for free market democracies?

7. How do you hope to convert an almost dysfunctional Council into a forward-looking legislature focused on the whole city, not just parochial parts of it?

8. How do you plan to convert DC's bureaucracy, founded on patronage and largely unionized, into a merit-based role model for other American central cities?

9. How can you substantially improve the ratio of "revenue producers" to "revenue consumers" (welfare recipients) to better match national taxpayer burdens?

10. How do you "recall" and "recycle" about 100,000 nearly illiterate, seriously dysfunctional, people produced by failed education and criminal justice systems?

11. Are you willing to re-zone the city to achieve better revenue productivity from your limited space, including untaxed/federal properties?

12. How can you attract free-world businesses to locate within the city limits while still deriving needed revenues from their presence?

NARPAC has been wrestling with each of these basic issues on a hypothetical basis, but they must soon be addressed by real-world practitioners.

March, 1999

If the District's energetic new Mayor needs a simple slogan to guide his actions, the above might fill the bill. If the DC Council wants to become pro-active, it could rally around the same slogan. If the Control Board wonders why it should stay active, this provides a clue. If the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments needs a catchy theme, this is it. And if Congress needs a simple way to look at its obligations to the nation's capital city and metro area, this will do.

NARPAC sees a major danger lurking in excessive jubilation over budget surpluses at the municipal level, the regional level, and the federal level. These were caused by the economy (stupid), not by quality government (Federal Reserve Board excepted). Government actions, national and local, have kept DC's financial situation from getting any worse. But they surely have not produced a quality of life for capital residents that is either high enough by national standards, nor level enough by regional standards.

The newfound DC FY98 surplus, only recently calculated to exceed substantially the city's remaining short-term accumulated deficits, is of course splendid news to the bookkeepers. But it means the city missed two of its goals: DC's burdened taxpayers paid even more per capita than they should have, and the DC government again spent less than intended to improve the quality of city life.

In the non-governmental sectors, there is no lack of optimism, business growth, or voluntary cooperation. The Board of Trade is awash in regional economic enthusiasm. Even the recently concluded national political trauma has done little if anything to decrease the enormous magnetism of living within commuting distance of our nation's capital with all its remarkable, unique, drawing cards.

But what drives existing residents away (and keeps new ones away) is the depressed quality of DC life, produced almost entirely by a depressed quality of local government. Perhaps 70% of the problem derives directly from self-inflicted municipal incompetence; 15% from regional non-cooperation; and 15% from unenlightened Congressional oversight. And those regional and federal failings are ultimately related to DC's own dysfunction as well.

Many pressures are now in place (including a few "contact sports events") to reform the DC government. DC residents have elected a new and different kind of mayor, and some DC Council members with greater potential. Young residents' natural emigration may once again be more closely matched by an inflow of optimists. Reform momentum is growing---with some inevitable traumas along the way, as those who should, feel the pinch.

The issue is surely not whether the mayor "is black enough", as some discontents allege, but whether the city bureaucracy is smart enough to adopt contemporary municipal work ethics. Can it be converted from a patronage-based failure to a merit-based success? The new mayor's littany of city embarrassments that he hopes to remedy within six months provides a simple proof of past malpractice.

It is high time to establish a longer-term, quantitative list of input action targets and output indicators of what constitutes an exemplary government-based quality of life for America's unique capital metro area. While NARPAC cannot be the final word in such goal-setting, it is willing to take the first step. We herewith provide a straw man list of 75 quantifiable indicators, indicating target values for "passing grades". If nothing else, it shows how far DC has to go to become an average US city. We hope it will produce a more challenging set of goals embraced by the major decision-makers in DC's future.

February, 1999

This town is known for its pundits and commentators. But for the task at hand, we don't need people up in the booth doing color commentary, or in the stands cheering or booing. We need folks down on the field, blocking and tackling, maybe getting sacked, but getting up and helping us advance the ball a yard at a time as we move toward victory. That is my message today: C'mon out of the stands, people. Suit up. Get in the game. Let's win this together.
Tony Williams, Jan 2, 1999.

While NARPAC, Inc. tries to figure out how to suit up and find a place in the game, we find ourselves continuing to react to the progress on the field:

Cheers of Encouragement for the New Mayor

The scrimmages have only just begun, of course. Nevertheless, we find the following actions by Tony Williams deserve applause:

  • An inspirational inaugural address which should dispel any remaining fears that the mayor is only a quirky, bean-counting nerd;

  • Sponsoring--and reading--a detailed set of 'transition reports" which seem to compare favorably with the Control Board's consultants' reports;

  • A willingness to listen to the near-term needs of DC's citizens, and to set up a set of near-term "tangible benefits" goals;

  • A promise to work closely with DC's grass roots neighborhood commissions;

  • Earning the trust and confidence of the Control Board from Day 1,

  • Early indications that he will work with his counterparts in the suburbs for the common goal of a first-class metro area;

  • Putting the municipal bureaucracy on notice that it must perform as well as the private sector in delivering services;

  • Bringing in "outsiders" to help energize the reluctant agency upper management;

  • Encouraging participation over punditry...;

  • ...(But hushed silence over his apparent rejection, not so much the incumbent, but of the Office of City Manager , and of planning to double in the role of city administrator, even if only temporarily);

Sporadic Clapping and Catcalls for the DC Council:

The Council has partially shuffled its deck of committee chairs, but has clearly favored seniority over a) committee importance, and b) demonstrated performance of the chairperson. Seniority of the unsuccessful mayoral candidates should have been ignored. Hence our reactions are mixed:

(Claps for the positive moves:)

  • Appointing new faces to chair the Local, Regional, Federal Affairs Committee and to represent DC to the COG;

  • Moving the irrepressible Carol Schwartz to the public works chair where her particular style and predilections may just work wonders;

  • Appointing Sharon Ambrose to the key position of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Chair;

  • Leaving Charlene Drew Jarvis on the Economic Development Committee, and Sandy Allen on Human Services;

(Catcalls for the negative moves:)

  • Leaving Chavous on Education, the single least productive agency in the DC government;

  • Moving Brazil to Judiciary, where the police and emergency services are the second least productive agencies in the DC government;

  • Leaving Patterson on Government Operations instead of moving her up to Education, and replacing her with new blood;

  • Appointing Evans to Finance and Revenues where his business ties may provide a strong conflict of interest in the essential tax revision arena;

Sustained Boos for Congress

The new Congress and its new leaders, preoccupied with the extraordinary troubles in the presidency, have clearly lost a significant opportunity to lead--rather than lag--the revitalization of our nation's capital by:

  • Perpetuating the myth that Constitutional responsibilities to oversee the District require four diverse, amateurish subcommittees instead of a single House/Senate Joint Committee of the Congress;

  • Assigning the two appropriations subcommittees chairpersons with limited or no municipal, urban, or regional experience, to preside over a financial process that no longer applies to the District of Columbia;

  • Reappointing the most influential DC subcommittee chairperson, who retains a clear conflict of interest with DC suburbs, and has now taken on more important additional House duties that will further limit his attention to DC.

Based on the state of play so far, it appears that neither the Council nor the Congress are likely to provide the unrestricted support the new mayor deserves-- particularly while he lacks a full team.

January, 1999

NARPAC, Inc. congratulates you on your election victory. From Day One, we hope you will keep in mind that America is watching, and shares your goal to restore pride in our capital city. But this cannot happen as long as critics can justifiably claim that:

  • DC wants to "bribe" people and businesses through tax incentives to live and work within its borders, even before exorcising the root causes which make it unattractive, i.e., urban blight, crime, poor education, and business antipathy--not taxes;

  • DC continues to plead for unmatched federal subsidies when DC is still arguably one of the nation's least efficient municipal governments, with more than 30,000 employees for 500,000 residents;

  • DC is asking for federal compensation before it has taken any real initiatives to unify and level the socioeconomic playing field within its own metro area. DC has few cooperative and no revenue sharing programs with its suburbs;

  • DC continues to skew its limited tax base by subsidizing some of America's least admired service businesses while overtaxing the few productive ones: lobbyists go tax free, while small, hi-tech industries pay high taxes;

  • DC perpetuates barriers to gentrification and urbanization while offering excessive benefits that attract less productive residents--keeping outdated rent controls and residential zoning, while overpaying employee and welfare benefits;

  • DC is still so distrusted by Congress that its residents cannot vote and its laws can be overruled by four oversight subcommittees. Full citizens' rights and minimal oversight can only flow from vastly improved local government performance.

The Washington metro area is the permanent theater showcasing our national and international public life. The District provides the orchestra seats, and they should be selling at a premium price, not bargain rates. Americans have a right to expect the best--and are surely willing to help you achieve it. Don't settle for less. Don't neglect the tough long-term executive and legislative changes for near-term political expediency.

Continue back to 1998 and prior Editorials

This page was updated on Jul 5, 2002

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