Howell testifies on Office of Human Rights FY 2003 Budget
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
FY 2003 BUDGET HEARING
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Subcommittee on Human Rights
Council of the District of Columbia
APRIL 19, 2002
My name is Craig Howell. I am pleased to be with you this morning representing the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. As you know, Mr. Chairman, GLAA celebrated our 31st anniversary last night with a reception at the Hotel Washington. We are glad that you and a number of your Council colleagues and other District government officials were able to attend.
We are gratified that the Williams Administration has granted the Office of Human Rights (OHR) an increase of $528,000, or nearly one-third, in the proposed budget for FY 2003. We see this as a vote of confidence both in the performance of the OHR staff and in the leadership of Director Charles Holman III -- a confidence we at GLAA fully share.
This boost will allow OHR to expand its staff by 6 positions, from 23 FTEs in FY 2002 to 29 FTEs in FY 2003. Half of these new positions will be investigators, giving further strength to the continuing effort to whittle down the size of OHR's caseload, which was truly staggering only a few short years ago. The other three positions will include an additional support staff person, a program manager for Hispanic and women's concerns, and a compliance officer.
Duties of the holder of this last-named position would, we are delighted to see, encompass overseeing implementation of the Mayor's Executive Order 2000-131, issued by Mayor Williams at GLAA's urging in August 2000 to ensure that all non-discrimination policy statements issued by District government agencies include the full list of categories protected under our comprehensive Human Rights Act of 1977. (In this connection, Mr. Chairman, I should mention in passing that we are looking forward to participating in your Subcommittee's June 21 oversight hearing on enforcement of this Executive Order.)
We are also pleased that the budget for contractual services will more than double, from $127,000 in FY 2002 to $279,000 in FY 2003. Some of this extra funding will be devoted to using lawyers to write up proposed findings of probable cause for the agency. We realize that this has been a major headache and bottleneck in the recent past, and trust that Mr. Holman will aggressively pursue major improvements in contractor performance in this critical area. Other portions of this increased funding will be devoted to contracts for EEO training for D.C. government EEO officers, contracts for training for OHR's cadre of volunteer mediators, contracts for training of OHR's own staff, hiring additional support staff, and other equally worthy causes.
As welcome as the one-third jump in OHR's proposed budget is, we would be even more grateful if yet additional funds could be found. For example, the intake function of the Office could certainly use some more staff help. We know of one member of our community who contacted OHR last month to see about filing an employment discrimination complaint, and was told that no meeting could be set up for this purpose until a month later. I contacted this complainant this week and was pleased to learn that the intake session did take place earlier this month as scheduled. But obviously, a one-month delay for intake is far from ideal.
Additional budget support might also be used to hire mediators, a worthwhile investment that should pay off in further reductions in the caseload. We could go on, but you get the idea. The hard part, as always, is finding where those extra dollars will come from. This will require some creative work by members of this Subcommittee and the Council as a whole, but we are confident that such an exercise will pay rich dividends.
As we stated during your oversight hearings last month, we are gratified by the recent improvement in OHR's performance, especially by the progress made in reducing the agency's caseload. It is such a relief that we at GLAA can now, in good conscience, urge members of our community who feel they have been victimized by illegal discrimination to go directly to OHR to seek appropriate remedies. It has been many years since we have been able to do that.
Thank you. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
[Subcommittee Chairman Jim Graham noted that the District loses money almost every year because of delays in getting the budget through Capitol Hill and the White House. The FY 2002 DC budget, for example, was not finally effective until mid-January of this year, even though the FY started last October 1. He mentioned a loss of $86,000 in OHR in one year's budget because of such delays. He asked Mr. Howell if he had any suggestions for coping with this recurring problem. Mr. Howell said the best solution would be for Congress to get out of the business of approving or disapproving or otherwise micromanaging the DC budget, as proposed in legislation introduced by Mrs. Norton. Short of that ideal, reprogramming might be used to shuffle dollars around DC government agencies, but the possibilities of that route in the aggregate are limited at best. Mr. Howell said reprogramming can be a two-edged sword, as shown by the wholesale cannibalization of OHR's budget when it was tied into another agency during the 1990's, which led directly to OHR's huge backlog. Indeed, that cannibalization was a major reason why GLAA urged the Council and the Mayor for several years to restore OHR's independence, a goal finally realized just a few years ago, with impressive results since then under Mr. Holman.
[Subcommittee member Adrian Fenty asked if GLAA has any dollar amount in mind for hiring mediators. Mr. Howell said no, but it was important to establish the principle that some mediators should be paid. As background, Mr. Howell cited the Human Rights Act Amendment Act of 1995, which required that complaints go through attempts at mediation before they could be investigated. Although this requirement (which GLAA supported) was driven by the drastic shortage of OHR investigators at the time, it remains a good way to maximize the efficient use of investigators. Yet the DC government has never appropriated any funds for OHR to hire mediators, even though their use is required by law. OHR has depended upon a cadre of volunteer mediators, with not always optimum results.
[Mr. Fenty echoed Mr. Howell's comments about the danger of reprogramming, citing OHR's unhappy victimization by what is now the Local Business Development Commission when the two agencies were united after 1989.
[Questions by both subcommittee members gave Mr. Howell the opportunity to repeat GLAA's general satisfaction with Mr. Holman's stewardship.]