Government and People
|On October 21, 1997, the DC Financial Responsibility and
Management Assessment Authority, the Control Board, had the first meeting in over two
years at which the public was invited to give public testimony. While the Control Board
wanted people to speak about the delivery of public services by governmental departments
and city agencies, most people took the opportunity to testify about the Control Board.
Person after person said that they had repeatedly called, faxed, and written the Control
Board for months and had received no response at all. When my turn came to testify, I
asked the Board how they would judge a particular department whose performance I
Members of the DC Financial Responsibility and Management Authority, I have been a supporter of the Control Board, But what you have heard from several people today is the fear, which I share, that you have been assimilated into the culture of DC government faster than you have changed it.
This meeting was called for members of the public to comment on the delivery of public services and on reforming personnel, procurement, information management, and asset management operations of the District government. I would like to speak specifically about one part of the District of Columbia government that I believe has been failing in its primary mission, and I would like to ask your judgment on its behavior.
How, members of the Control Board, would you judge a department that did not assess its personnel on the basis of performance, but instead retained and, indeed, promoted and gave substantial pay raises to managers who had demonstrably failed to perform their past duties adequately? What would you think of that department if it justified those retentions, promotions, and raises by claiming that it had to "assure continuity" if it failed to understand that the mission of this government is reform, not continuity?
What would you think of a department whose policy was that managers should not be held responsible for knowing about problems in their own agencies and divisions unless those problems were pointed out to them by outside consultants? In other words, what would you think of a department that flouted the basic principles of managerial accountability?
How would you judge a department that met in private, excluded the public from its deliberations, made all of its important decisions in secret, and had public meetings only to take pro forma votes on decisions that had already been made? How would you judge a department that then encouraged this behavior throughout the rest of government, and that set up independent, extra-governmental bodies that met in secret and excluded not only the public, but also elected officials, from its meetings?
What would you do to a government official who ordered his department heads not to testify before the City Council, thereby deliberately frustrating and obstructing the oversight role of the Council?1
What action would you take against a department that refused to submit to an independent audit of its financial accounts by a governmental auditor, but instead said that it would allow only an audit by an accountant of its own choosing?
What would you do to an agency that routinely engaged in sole-source contracting? That let the majority of its contracts without competitive bidding or public Requests for Proposals? And that refused to disclose the contracts it had signed?
What would your opinion be of a department that responded to repeated disclosures of its failures by blaming the press, and by claiming that the public would think better of its work if it only knew about all of its good work that went unreported?
What would you think if an agency had sued by citizens of the District of Columbia, and had repeatedly been found at fault by a court, and then its parent, protector department attempted to resolve its difficulty not by submitting to the findings of the court, but by bullying the citizens to withdraw their suit and by orchestrating a public relations campaign to discredit the judge and the court?
How would you judge a department head who was so contemptuous of the citizens of the District that he met only with those he determined to be powerful or power brokers, and who routinely refused to condescend to attend the meetings of citizens' and community organizations?
What action would you take against governmental officials who demonstrated their contempt for the citizens of the District by actually heckling citizens from the podium at a public meeting?
Members of the DC Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, how should the citizens of the District of Columbia judge you and your delivery of public services?
1. Constance Newman, a member of the Control Board, denied that the Board had ever issued such an order. I replied that Charlene Drew Jarvis had said that at the hearing on the Children's Island Bill that David Watts had been ordered by the Board not to testify. Control Board Chairman Andrew Brimmer issued a blanket denial that the Control Board had ever ordered department heads not to testify before the Council.
However, when the next questioner said that she also had heard Councilmember Jarvis make the same statement, Mr. Brimmer admitted that he had ordered department heads under the Control Board's authority that they could give only "factual answers to factual questions" before the Council, and they could not testify as to policy or give their opinions on issues before the Council. This "clarification" showed that Ms. Newman's and Mr. Brimmer's original blanket denials.were so deceptive that they were, in fact, lies.
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