- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2000

The General Accounting Office (GAO), which is the investigative arm of Congress, recently released a report that said three years and $300 million into a massive reform project, the District has little to show for its efforts. In fact, GAO officials told Congress, D.C. officials implemented only 69 of 280 measures outlined in the 1997 management reform plan.

To appreciate fully the breadth of the issue you have to understand where the District has been and what the consequences are if it doesn't carry out significant reforms. One decade ago the city began a financial and political downturn. Barely able to meet its hefty payroll, officials ignored capital improvements, put off paying bills and began a series of furloughs that devastated the quality of services. The streets were filthy and the residents were as weary of rising taxes as they were of skyrocketing crime rates. Every election cycle brought more of the same literally. Perennial candidates and career politicians vowed reform only for voters to realize two years later they all were blowing the same hot air.

The 1998 elections were supposed to be different. Voters chose as mayor a politician who had never held elective office in the District and politicians who packaged themselves as reform-minded lawmakers. Their potential to shake up the slothful bureaucracy appeared great. Suffice it to say, some of the same agencies severely hampered by mismanagement on the part of the executive branch and micromanagement by the council public works, public schools, human services, corrections and procurement remain troublesome a decade later.

The mayor and the D.C. Council simply have not carried out the will of the people, people who went to the polls in 1998 saying the city should reform the bureaucracy and hold accountable workers who refuse to do so. Congress reiterated their mandate June 30 at two separate hearings on Capitol Hill and warned Mayor Williams and Council Chairman Linda Cropp to speed up the reforms. The mayor promised then that, "come hell or high water," people will be pushed into action.

Some of the mayor's people have already been pushed out the door, including the director of public works and the director of the Public Benefit Corp., which runs the city's clinics and D.C. General Hospital. Recent reports of serious problems at other agencies, including recreation and employment services, and continued problems at human services, ought to have the mayor rethinking leadership over there as well.

The most obvious leadership void, though, is on the legislative level. The D.C. Council can pull considerable rank on the executive branch, and rightly so. Yet it seems to have fallen into a political rut and listlessly declines to use its authority to make reforms.

That's risky political business because the city needs strong leadership from both branches of government to work effectively. Moreover, if reckless spending and longstanding problems remain uncorrected, federal overseers at the control board will not, repeat will not, be dissolved. Any smart politician knows that situation will not play well come election time.

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