Many of DC's governmental and financial functions are watched over by agencies of the US Government on both the Executive side (The White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and on the Legislative side (The House and the Senate). Four subcommittees of the Congress carry most of the broad oversight responsibility:
OMB'S FEDERAL INTERAGENCY DC TASK FORCE
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares the President's budget requests and other legislation concerning the DC. For instance, it was the Director of OMB who presented the President's new plan for restructuring several DC governmental functions at A White House press conference in 1997.
Recognizing that "DC has no state", President Clinton had earlier directed then director of OMB Alice Rivlin to "convene a group of officials in Executive Branch agencies to work among themselves, and with their DC counterparts, to help the District cope with its financial problems" according to their latest report: "Promoting Stability, Growth, and Opportunity in Our Nation's Capital." Specific programs of assistance were established by the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Justice, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Transportation, amounting to many millions of federal dollars. Equally important, it has brought the attention of federal experts to DC's manifold problems, and its need for "systemic" changes.
Verbatim extracts from the first annual report (for 1996) of the Federal DC Task Force are included under each of NARPAC, Inc.'s major issue areas. A later report updating Federal assistance to the District became available in May, 1998, and is summarized in the DC Task Force section of City Management, and detailed under each major issue heading.
Interagency Task Force Codified By Executive Order
Along with many dubious pardons, and other seemingly frantic last-minute actions, President Clinton issued an executive order creating the Federal Interagency Task Force on the District of Columbia. It is not clear as of April, 2001 that President Bush will support it. Nevertheless, it describes how the task force has worked in recent years--and how it felt it should continue:
January 15, 2001FOUR CONGRESSIONAL DC OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEES
Legislative implementation of federally-imposed decisions frequently accompany the passage of Congress's annual appropriations. Because DC remains a "ward of the Congress" (even though it no longer receives its $660 million "annual federal payback" for city services provided to the federal government), and because DC is obliged to have its entire budget reviewed by the Congress, both DC appropriations subcommittees are very influential bodies.
The original Presidential initiatives would have eliminated some of this perceived "micromanagement" and "interference" in home rule, but the final enacted "DC Rescue Plan" retained the separate and often conflicting roles of all four sub/committees, as well as the often mercurial interventions of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, now long since departed. It is evident from the daily press reports that Congress feels that managing the nation's capital city is a "game in which any number can play". Adding four separate centers of authority on the Hill to the elected mayor, the Chairman of the City Council, and the still-active Control Board (now under Chairman Rivlin), it is easy to count seven mayors for DC without including an independent Chief Financial Officer and two separate School Boards (elected and appointed).
For the 107th Congress (2001-2), membership on the four subcommittees will be as follows:
Republicans: Chr: George Voinovich, (R-KS); Ted Stevens, (-AK); Susan
Collins (R-ME); Pete Domenici (R-NM); Thad Cochran (R-MS);
Republicans: Chr: Joe Knollenberg (R-11th MI); Enert Istook, Jr. (D-5th OK);
Randy Cunningham (R-51st CA);John Doolittle (R-4th CA);John Sweeney (R-22nd
NY)*; Dave Vitter (R-1st LA)*;
For years, this has been the most active subcommittee of the Congress concerning DC matters, because it has assigned to it the overall oversight functions. Its past chairman, Thomas Davis (R-VA), has finally stepped down: he was a tough but knowledgeable tskmaster for the District, and benefitted from recent local governmental experience in Fairfax,VA, within the DC metropolitan area. He has been rplaced by another longtime House member, this time from Montomery County, MD, also within the DC metro area:
Republicans: Chr: Constance A Morella (R-8thMD); Thomas M. Davis III
(R-11th VA); Joe Scarborough (D-1st FL);
Were the District of Columbia treated by the federal government like other American urban areas, then some if its most serious problems, common to most inner cities, would be under the general oversight of the housing and urban affairs subcommittees of the Congress:
VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee,
Republicans: Bond, Chair; Burns; Shelby; Craig; Domenici, DeWine
Housing and Transportation Subcommittee,
Republicans: Allard, Chair; Santorum; Ensign; Shelby; Enzi; Hagel;
VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee,
Republicans: Walsh, Chair; DeLay; Hobson; Knollenberg;
Frelinghuysen; Northrup; Sununu; Aderholt
Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee,
Republicans: Roukema, Chair; Green; Bereuter; Bachus; King; Ney; Barr;
Kelly; Riley; Miller; Cantor; Grucci; Rogers; Tiberi;
It is in these subcommittees that some of the nation's most serious long range socioeconomic problems will have to be addressed within the next few years if American metro areas are to achieve reasonably level playing fields for their diverse residents.
Managing and administering the affairs of urban areas is a difficult task at best, and is exacerbated when the elected officials prove incompetent to exercise good government. But, it becomes almost impossible when multiple authorities with different agendas attempt to correct the same problems from different vantage points. This year's FY98 budget approval process for DC has exemplified this tragicomic situation summarized in this NARPAC, Inc. running commentary:
In January, 1997 the President outlines a "DC Rescue Plan" which calls on the federal government to take back some of DC's onerous and ill- managed "state functions", starting a debate between DC officials and Congressional lawmakers. It also calls for elimination of the four Congressional oversight committees--a provision that Congress rejects.
In February and March the elected Mayor Barry tries unsuccessfully three times to prepare an FY98 budget proposal satisfactory to the appointed Control Board "Mayor" Brimmer.
In April, the DC Council finally approves a DC budget for submission to the Congress, and votes first to reject the President's rescue plan, and then reverses itself three days later. Meanwhile, "Mayor" Davis of the House Oversight Committee has begun to shepherd the President's plan through the Congress as a separate bill.
Meanwhile, "Mayor" Taylor of House Appropriations weighs in to suggest shifting the power to run DC from both Mayor Barry and "Mayor" Brimmer to DC's new Finance Chief, a move unwisely endorsed by the Finance Chief himself. This proposal is attached to a small DC FY97 supplemental appropriation wending its way through Congress, and the needed funding bill is killed as a result. Taylor then throws the troubled DC Law School into further turmoil by stating he will not approve funding for it in FY98--a threat not carried out in the final bill.
In June, the House Ways & Means Committee agrees to support the DC rescue package, now called the "Davis Plan" which will, among other things, provide a $325M windfall for DC in FY98, and require DC to resubmit their budget proposal--a process which again results in foolish grandstanding by Barry, and exasperation from Brimmer. A sensible compromise is reached in September which would apply much of the windfall to a) the remaining $500M DC deficit, and b) some of the most pressing of the Control Board near-term initiatives for fixing the city.
In July, 1997, the simmering issue of shifting from a City Administrator to a City Manager (to take the elected mayor out of the direct management loop) is raised in Congress, and DC activists fly into action claiming that such a change should be based on local "democratic" action, not arbitrary action by the city's "receivers". "Mayor" Faircloth of the Senate Oversight Committee supports the city manager approach, and is greeted with demonstrators bused to his home in North Carolina. Such luminaries as Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson pick up the mayor's theme, weighing in against the "rape of democracy" in the District. Delegate Norton applies her considerable--and vociferous--influence to kill the plan.
As a result the Congress shifts to a compromise which strips Mayor Barry of most of his remaining authority, turning the nine major functional agencies over to "Mayor" Brimmer, to be run by a series of consulting firms (!). Brimmer subsequently announces that he will hire a manager to oversee the consultants-- since quite obviously the inexperienced five-person Control Board cannot manage the major day-to-day operations of the city.
To further complicate matters, "Mayor" Brownback of Senate DC Appropriations subcommittee insists that the DC bill include funding for the controversial school voucher program being pushed nationally. This subsequently becomes a major issue, further delaying passage of the DC bill--and is ultimately removed to a separate bill to avoid Presidential veto.
Early in August, the rescue management plan is approved by the Congress, passed in an omnibus federal budget bill, and Brimmer appoints a talent search firm to look for a manager. Norton first supports the plan and five days later reverses her position in the face of a minor activist's demonstration.
In September, the focus in Congress shifts back to passing DC's (revised) FY98 municipal budget as a separate appropriation. In October, "Mayor" Taylor attaches a dozen or more specialized riders clearly intended to micromanage DC affairs. These include limits on personnel assigned to the mayor's office and his security detail; a ban on businesses offering helicopter tours of the city; reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House; leasing street sweepers; requiring all city vehicles to get 22 miles to the gallon; and so forth. They also mandate Congressional approval of all Control Board spending, a hot line for reporting fraud, and a limit on welfare payments--not to exceed those of Maryland and Virginia. These riders are attached to the House bill, which passes by one vote, while the Senate bill crafted by "Mayor" Faircloth is passed virtually accepting the revised DC bill as submitted.
In October, Brimmer catches Taylor trying to "steer" consultant's contracts to be included in the bill. Taylor retaliates by trying to block salary raises for DC officials which would make them competitive with surrounding jurisdictions-- and hopefully make it possible to develop a more competent DC executive force.
To ease the absurd process expected in reconciling the Taylor and Faircloth bills, "Mayor" Gingrich, with his own agenda for the "shining city on a hill" (including school vouchers), weighs in with the almost unprecedented step of removing Taylor from the reconciliation process and replacing him with Davis. Haggling over the bill continues into November, well past the beginning of the fiscal year, and raising DC costs to borrow money in the meantime. Finally, a bill is passed in mid-November, while elected Mayor Barry is back in Africa for the second meeting this year, where he is advising other black mayors worldwide how to improve the image of their cities.
In tribute to Congressional chicanery, "Mayors" Davis and Faircloth, and the ranking Democrat on "Mayor" Taylor's committee had included a rider to the appropriation bill that would transfer at no cost the valuable property ordered vacated by the DC-operated prison at Lorton, to the state of Virginia for its own uses. "Mayor" Taylor steps forward to quash this blatantly opportunistic move whereby the suburbs would benefit from DC's problem relief.
Any rational long-range solution to the multiple problems of managing the municipal government of our nation's capitol must include a major reduction in the capricious interventions of the Congress in local affairs. In their place, however, there remains the need for some form of professional executive oversight (by exception)--as is provided to all other American municipalities by their state governments and boards.
In the view of NARPAC, Inc. the most statesmanlike solution to this problem would be for the Congress to dissolve the two authorizations subcommittees and two appropriations subcommittees of the Congress (House and Senate), and replace them with a single Joint Committee of the Congress for DC. Four other such joint committees already exist for: Economics, Taxation, Government Printing Office, and Library of Congress. For further explanation, see Unfinished Business, NARPAC, Inc.'s editorial for August,1998.
Congressional Tinkering Stalls FY99 DC Appropriation Bill
Again during 1998, the Congress found plenty of time to add special conditions to the DC FY99 "appropriations bill" (though no appropriations were sought by DC this year). Among the gratuitous amendments are: 1) prohibiting kids under 18 from having tobacco products; prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting children; forbidding DC employees (except police) from driving city cars home; banning the use of DC's own funds for needle exchange programs; limiting lawyers pressing special education programs for individual kids from charging more than $50 per hour; repealing a (probably foolish) DC residency requirement for DC employees; banning any city official from spending public money to gain voting rights for city residents; and eliminating all money ($573K) to operate the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions' work--essentially a death-knoll for the city's not- always effective grass-roots political efforts.
The Congress also added some federal funds for unspecified 'management reforms'; to expand a downtown Metro station, and add to funding for DC charter schools. It has also removed a controversial school voucher funding proposal that the President threatened to veto. Nevertheless, the bill was not passed by the beginning of the new fiscal year, and DC was obliged to operate under a 'continuing resolution' which limits the spending of DC's own revenues until the bill was signed. In fact, many of the most objectionable provisions were deleted from the final omnibus bill (for $520 billion) that the President signed on October 21st, but the political energies required to remove the frivolous tinkering could have been better spent elsewhere.
Washington Post Supports Eliminating Congress's DC Subcommittees
In a recent (December, 1998) unintentional on-camera gaffe, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott admitted that service on the DC subcommittees was 'the dregs'. NARPAC responded immediately by suggesting Congress disband the four subcommittees (see Correspondence), and a few days later (Dec 9, 1998), a Post editorial included the following:
"Senators have good reasons to recoil from serving as a D.C. surrogate mayor on Capitol Hill. Chairing a subcommittee that signs off on the ways District citizens manage and spend their own tax dollars pales next to overseeing appropriations subpanels of national security, agriculture and major domestic programs. The oversight performed by D.C. appropriations subcommittees only undercuts the ability of an elected mayor and council to enact local laws, tax their citizens and run the city. The Senate and House D.C. appropriations subcommittees, as with the two D.C. authorizing subcommittees, only perpetuate the role of Congress as the local legislature. They are inefficient uses of a senator's and representative's time.At about the same time, one of the first acts of the Speaker-elect of the House, Bob Livingston, was to deny Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's request to again become a full voting member of the Congress--in part at least because the Republican margin on the House is already so slim. He subsequently withdrew his nomination for unrelated reasons, but it is not clear that his successor, Dennis Hastert, will overturn his decision.
Congress's 'Virtual Mayor' Tom Davis Weighs in for Mayor Williams
In a January,1999, editorial in the Washington Post, Tom Davis, Chairman of the House DC Subcommittee (and representative from a neighboring Virginia DC metro area suburb), gave his views of "What a difference four years have made for the nation's capital". Excerpts follow:
Just four years ago, when I took my seat in Congress as a new member and was named chairman of the D.C. subcommittee, Washington was in the middle of its worst crisis in history...... The District had not gotten into its financial crisis overnight, and it could not recover overnight. The subcommittee concluded that poor management and a shocking failure to make hard choices were the principal causes of the disaster that faced the region. I say the region, because we need a healthy city to have a vibrant metropolitan area. (emphasis added by NARPAC.);What Davis does not say here is that he remains adamantly opposed to any leveling of the fiscal playing field within the region--based on his own clear (and acknowledged) conflict of interest. He is apparently confident that DC can become the first core city in the US to heal itself without the help of the revenue base of its burgeoning suburbs. NARPAC, Inc. disagrees. In fact, the "poor management and shocking failure to make the hard choices" certainly extends to the Congress in its failure to accept "its responsibilities for the nation's capital under the Constitution."
Congressional meddling in the details of DC's 2000 budget continued apace, with several members of the DC oversight subcommittees (as well as unrelated members from the floor) offering amendments stipulating how DC should spend--or not spend--its own locally- generated revenues. In fact, the interference was so bad that the President vetoed the proposed "appropriations" legislation three times. It seems unnecessary to repeat the litany of "micromanagement" items here. Instead, NARPAC provides a summary of the major Washington Post headlines and editorials concerning DC's 2000 budget review process in the Congress from July through November of 1999. It is a classic case of the political abuse of their oversight responsibilities, the subject of a recent NARPAC Editorial, which applies as well to inappropriate DC Council oversight.
A similar chronology to 1999 (see above) has been demonstrated in 2000, with several intrusions into the local affairs of the District. Of particular interest this year was the short-lived attempt to add a trivial amount for a study of the merits of a commuter tax: it was added on July 15th and removed on July 26th to satisfy the conflict of interest of Subcommittee chairman Tom Davis. The final resolution of this year's budget is not likely to be achieved until sometime in November.
Both major political parties included objectives for the District of Columbia at the urging of DC activists such as Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. The Republicans were somewhat more effusive than the Democrats, but it is clear that some steps will be taken in the next few years to improve the lot of DC.
Republican Party Platform:
The District of Columbia should be an example for the rest of the Country. Instead, decades of domination by the Democratic Party has left the city bankrupt and dangerous. Its residents--and all Americans--deserve better than that.
We reaffirm the constitutional status of the DC as the seat of government of the US and reject calls for statehood for the District. We care for the structural reform of the city's government and its educational system. For both efficiency and public safety, we will transfer water and sewer management to the Army Corps of Engineers or to a regional entity.
We endorse proposals by the Republican Congressional leaders for dramatic reductions in federal taxes--and the city's outrageous marginal tax rate within the District. Bill Clinton opposes the idea. A Republican president will make it a part of a comprehensive agenda to transform the nation's capital into a renewal community, an enterprise zone leading the way for the rest of America to follow.
Democratic Party Platform
Details of the existing relationships between the DC Government and the Federal Government are spelled out in some detail in a separate GUPPI Backgrounder and are well worth reading. They remain virtually unchanged under Congress's newly-passed "DC Rescue Plan".This page was updated on Apr 5, 2001
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