- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2000

Just a few years ago, the District of Columbia's glass was more than half-empty, as the city government faced a financial crisis of epic proportions. Indeed, the situation was so severe that the District could not deliver basic services and there were real concerns it would run out of cash to pay debt service or meet its payroll.

Today, glasses in the nation's capital are, at the very least, half-full. The District's population is stabilizing, the real-estate market is up, suburban residents are making more leisure trips into the city, and jobs have increased dramatically.

The year 1999 was a banner one for the District. Congress passed a city spending bill that enhanced resources for foster care, drug treatment and public education, and included much-needed funds to clean up the Anacostia River and to study widening the 14th Street Bridge. Perhaps the greatest victory of the past year came in the form of the landmark College Access Act, which, for the first time, will enable D.C. high school graduates to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges in Maryland and Virginia.

It was also a year of technological renaissance in the District, driven in large part by an aggressive, crisis-mode approach to achieving Y2K conversion compliance. While the District did not embark upon its remediation efforts until relatively late in the game, the commitment of the Williams administration, the support of the Control Board and City Council, and the talent of the professionals in the office of the chief technology officer ensured the city was compliant by critical deadline dates. A significant by-product of that effort has been the development of a longer-term Technology Improvement Plan.

During the past year we also witnessed many examples of progress in efforts to revitalize the District. The trend that produced substantial loss of population and employment appears to have been reversed. Economic development initiatives are producing increased opportunities for residents and businesses alike. A balanced budget for the third straight year, as well as measurable improvements identifying and collecting local revenues, has resulted in an upgrading of the city's bond rating. Tax and regulatory reforms including the largest tax cut in the city's history in the fiscal year 2000 budget have attracted the attention of potential investors and employers.

But those who keep the city can never rest. There are many serious, ongoing concerns that demand our oversight and attention. My biggest goal for 2000 will be to make sure our victories in recent years are not followed by a return to the old ways of doing business in the city.

It has never been my desire to micromanage the District. But Congress' constitutional responsibility is one I do not and will not take lightly. I intend to remain vigilant as my 6-year term as chair of the D.C. Subcommittee comes to a close. The oversight hearing we held in late January highlighted those issues that will be on our radar this year. Service- and management-based shortcomings continue to plague city government. School governance issues must be resolved. Services for the mentally retarded must be revamped. Potholes must be repaired. Reform initiatives in the police and fire and rescue departments must proceed.

Yes, the potentially troubling list of issues is long. But compared to where we were just five years ago, way back in the 20th century, the future of the nation's capital appears brighter than ever. The House Subcommittee on the District of Columbia is proud to have played a constructive, bipartisan role in its astounding turnaround.

Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

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