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|Third Quarter 1997
Street, N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005
In August 1997, President Clinton signed legislation that significantly reformed the finances and management of the District of Columbia. The financial centerpiece of the reform package was the return of approximately $5 billion in current unfunded pension liability, as well as the transfer of approximately $3 billion in pension assets, from the District to the federal government.
The proposal for federal reassumption of the unfunded pension liability was DC Appleseed's, first detailed in a June 1996 report, "The District of Columbia's Pension Dilemma -- An Immediate and Lasting Solution."
In its report, DC Appleseed's project team offered two elements critical to resolving the pension crisis: a clear and concise explanation of federal responsibility for creating the entire unfunded liability, and an innovating approach to scoring the proposal for federal budget purposes that enabled the proposal's adoption.
However, the issuance of the DC Appleseed report, alone, did not create change. Enactment of the pension reform measure culminated a year of intensive work by DC Appleseed to educate policy makers at both the local and federal level regarding this serious issue. Early in the process, DC Appleseed met with Clinton Administration representatives, Congresswoman Norton, Representatives Davis' staff, the Control Board, and Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams to outline our findings and recommendations.
Subsequent conversations with the General Accounting Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service yielded a series of federal reports confirming DC Appleseed's conclusions regarding federal responsibility for the unfunded liability.
In January 1997, the Clinton Administration recommended a reform package for the District that included the DC Appleseed pension recommendation. After continuing efforts to educate congressional leaders and their staff -- including Representatives Norton and Senators Lott, Faircloth, and Brownback -- DC Appleseed's persistence paid off -- our proposal was enacted into federal law. Given the size of the unfunded liability -- nearly as large as the District's entire annual budget -- the solution solved an otherwise crippling problem that, alone, prevented the possibility of the District's economic recovery.
DC Appleseed's pension work illustrates that teams of volunteer professionals can have a tremendous impact on the critical problems facing the District. While DC Appleseed's entire Pension Task Force devised the pension proposal and prepared the report, the breadth of expertise brought to bear on solving the pension problem is detailed below:
With our pension work completed, DC Appleseed has accelerated work on its ongoing projects. In addition to our Federal Facilities Project (see DC Appleseed Update, 2nd Quarter 1997), DC Appleseed is examining certain functions of the District government, including operations of the chief medical examiner and decisions related to land use and zoning.
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner: Once considered one of the best in the country, over the past fifteen years the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has deteriorated due to lack of attention to its mounting problems, including antiquated equipment, personnel shortages, and flawed work. The primary consequences of the many serious financial and managerial problems facing the OCME is the hindrance of the criminal investigations and the failure to adequately process critical public health information.
In addition to the need for improved autopsy and toxicology screenings for prosecuting crimes, OCME needs to improve its ability to assess patterns related to causes of death -- a critical step in fighting disease. DC Appleseed is adopting a series of recommendations for structural reform of the OCME including the recommendations related to the unique place of the OCME within the District government structure.
Land Use and Zoning: The process for making zoning and land use decisions in the District involves an unusually large number of federal and local agencies, and is so complicated that it is fully understood by only the most sophisticated land use lawyers and other professionals. Because the process includes so many points for making decisions and exerting influence, the public purpose behind zoning and land use decisions sometimes gets lost in the structure.
As a first step in addressing this problem, DC Appleseed is finalizing a land use and zoning manual that will describe the process by which such decisions are made. The publicly available manual will serve two purposes: increase access to information by the average citizen and business owner, and help draw attention to the areas where reform is needed, including those on which DC Appleseed can focus in its future.
The DC Appleseed Center/Appleseed Foundation annual event at the Organization of American States will feature Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Alice Rivlin and Chair of The Washington Post Executive Committee Katharine Graham in "An Evening of Policy and Prose." Tables are available for $5,000 or $2,000 and individual tickets for $250 or $125 by writing or calling the phone number or address listed above. DC Appleseed thanks the generous contributions of the follows:
The DC Appleseed Center welcomes our newest board member, Daniel M. Singer, Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson (of Counsel).
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