- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday assumed the blame for a communications device being turned off during an evacuation of federal buildings last week but said he is seeking a “corrected” protocol from the federal government for dealing with emergencies.

“In the corrected situation, you know there is something happening, you know what the response is, you know what people’s decisions are as they make those decisions to evacuate … as opposed to what we had last week,” the mayor said.

A pilot’s errant flight into restricted D.C. airspace May 11 prompted evacuation of the White House, the U.S. Capitol and other buildings. It also exposed a breakdown in protocol and communication between federal agencies and city officials, who were not told about the evacuation.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. Williams vowed to improve communication between D.C. agencies and the White House, the Capitol, the Office of Personnel and Management, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The mayor also discussed his concern that the D.C. Council is overstepping its legislative bounds and voiced hope for his medical-malpractice insurance reform bill.

However, Mr. Williams, a Democrat, declined to say whether he will seek a third term next year.

Mr. Williams said city officials still are trying to find out why a communications line between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Metropolitan Police Department was disconnected last week.

“I take full responsibility for the fact that our line wasn’t on,” he said. “There’s no excuse for that.”

City workers responsible for monitoring FAA communications would be disciplined, the mayor said.

“Yes, we want to hold someone or persons accountable,” he said, noting that the so-called FAA “squawk box” would have let police know there was a problem with a plane but would not have provided information about the evacuation.

City and federal officials will place D.C. employees in high levels of the command centers operated by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to monitor potential security threats, he said.

A city police officer with a low security clearance already is stationed at the Department of Homeland Security’s command center.

“We’ll have a person at the Transportation Security Operations Center,” Mr. Williams said. “We’ll have a person connected at the Homeland Security Operations Center. … We’ll have our phone on, so we’ll know from that position. So we’ll have a full situation awareness of what is happening.”

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse yesterday would not provide any specifics about when a protocol would be made available to the city.

“We are working on strengthening the plan that we have,” he said in a separate interview.

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams accused the D.C. Council of encroaching on his executive powers by proposing to withhold salaries of certain city workers and calling for some employees to be fired.

Such action “violates the charter” on which the city government was founded, he said.

The mayor took issue with a proposal this week from council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, that would withhold the salaries of senior deputies in the city health department if vendors are not paid on time.

A key concern is the city’s escalating medical-malpractice insurance premiums, which are prompting D.C. doctors to move their practices to Maryland or Virginia and save up to $60,000 a year in insurance costs, Mr. Williams said.

“We need to make some movement on leveling the playing field where it comes to malpractice,” he said.

Mr. Williams said he has studied how other jurisdictions — such as New York and Maryland — have reformed their malpractice insurance system and knows his reform plan faces “an uphill struggle with the council.”

His plan — which died in the council last year — would not cap economic damages but would limit most pain-and-suffering payouts to $250,000 against physicians and to $500,000 against hospitals.

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