Wilburn testifies on OHR Budget
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Wilburn testifies on OHR Budget


GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Testimony of Nadine Chandler Wilburn
Interim Director, Office of Human Rights Before the
Subcommittee on Human Rights, Asian & Pacific Islander and Latino Affairs, and Property Management's
Budget Oversight Hearing

April 11, 2003


Good morning Chairman Graham, members of the Council, and citizens of the District of Columbia. My name is Nadine Wilburn. I am the Interim Director of the Office of Human Rights and it is a pleasure for me to give testimony before you today on the Office of Human Rights' proposed budget for FY04.

The OHR's proposed local budget for FY04 is $1,776,000. It is less than the OHR's FY03 budget by $55,000 which reflects a decrease of approximately $45,000 in personal services and a decrease of approximately $10,000 to support gap-closing measures in FY04. With the state of the economy throughout the nation, the OHR is thankful that its FY04 budget essentially remained the same, varying only 3% from its FY03 budget. The OHR is especially grateful to you Chairperson Graham, Mr. Fenty, and the entire Council for restoring the $183,000 that was presented to the Council for elimination from the OHR's FY03 budget.

The restoration signified to the OHR and its customers, that even under these dire financial constraints, the District of Columbia has prioritized both the need to eliminate the OHR's case backlog and the need to timely process claims of discrimination. Such prioritization is indeed timely, given that research shows that the number of discrimination claims in fact increases when there have been economic downturns resulting in lay-offs and reductions in force.

The restoration to the OHR's budget also went a long way toward improving employee morale because its means that the OHR can continue with its goals of hiring an additional three Investigators to assist the OHR's current five investigators tackle and eliminate the backlog at the close of FY04. In fact, on April 8, 2003, I submitted paperwork with the District of Columbia Office of Personnel (DCOP) recommending the hire of two additional Investigators. I also interviewed another prospective Investigator on Thursday, April 10, 2003. I expect two of the Investigations to be on board within the next 30 days and the third to be on board within the next 60 days. Finally, the restoration means that the OHR can now pay for badly needed additional office space for the Commission on Human Rights (Commission). All this news is indeed exciting for both the staff at the OHR and the Commission.

The OHR's FY03 revised local budget is $1,831,000. The OHR's proposed FY04 local budget is $1,776,000 for FY04 reflects the following:

(a) A $45,000 decrease in personal services reflecting gap-closing measures for FY04 as already mentioned;

(b) A decrease of $106,000 in personal services and an increase of $109,000 in non-personal services to support fixed costs such as rent, janitorial services, and security services based on FY03 estimates. In addition, $48,000 of the $106,00 was shifted to line 40 "other services and charges" to enable the OHR to pay for other services such as a contract hearing examiner, in the event a conflict of interest prevents the Commission's two Hearing Examiner to recuse themselves from a case; a part-time paralegal at the Commission, and/or office space for the Commission in FY04. The shift of the $106,385 to non-personal services was done in October 2002, when the OHR submitted its budget request for FY04, long before the OHR was targeted (in February 2003) with eliminating 183k from its FY04, for the purpose of covering increased fixed costs and supporting the work of the Commission. Lastly, and as mentioned above;

(c) A decrease of 10,000 in non-personal services to reflecting gap-closing measures for FY03.

I would now like to address the OHR's progress with regard to the backlog and its plans to eliminate its backlog at the close of FY04, in addition to the OHR's other FY04 goals.

In FY04, the OHR has a total of 28 FTEs, the same number of funded FTEs it was authorized in FY03. Five un-funded positions were eliminated in FY04. However, this has no effect on the OHR because the OHR was prohibited from filling these five FTEs because no funds were available. In the event the OHR's productivity for FY04 demonstrates that a program enhancement is needed for FY05, the OHR would then both seek additional FTEs and funding to support any new FTEs.

Backlog

The OHR's numbers with regard to the backlog and pending inventory for the last three fiscal years are as follows:

End Of Fiscal Year Pending Inventory Backlog Percentage Of Inventory Considered Backlog New Docketed Cases Closed Cases Percentage Of Docketed Cases Closed
FY 2001 567 450 80% 185 232 175%
FY 2002 540 383 71% 322 290 90%
FY 2003
10/01/2002 to 04/10/03
429 376 87% 277 191 70%

As you know, backlog is defined as cases that have been pending in the OHR for 180 days or more without a decision being made on those cases. Some Human Rights Offices the size of the OHR define backlog in this manner. Yet others are more generous to themselves and define backlog as cases pending for 225 or up to 500 days without a decision. Because the OHR's regulations indicate that an investigation should be completed within 120 days, the OHR utilized the shorter period, 180 days, to define backlog.

When I became Interim Director on June 10, 2002, the number of cases backlogged was 355. The number of pending cases as of June 10, 2002 was 498. The number of cases backlogged as of April 10, 2002 is 376. The number of cases currently pending is 429. In FY02, the OHR docketed a total of 322 new cases and closed a total of 290 cases.

Year to date in FY03, the OHR has docketed 277 new cases and has closed 194 cases. In March 2003 alone, the OHR closed 35 cases but docketed a total of 59 new cases. When comparing the OHR's performance this year with the same time last year, the OHR closed 137 cases at the end of March 2002, while it has closed 184 at the end of March 2003. Thus, the OHR's has closed 47 more cases in FY03.

Although the backlog is a bit higher at this time, than it was on June 10, 2002, currently, there are approximately 90 completed investigations awaiting legal sufficiency review. In June 10, 2002, there were approximately 10 cases awaiting review by the Director, because the Legal Unit had not yet been staffed and the OHR lacked the funds to send additional cases to contractors for investigation.

The OHR's plan to move these 90 cases through the legal sufficiency review process is as follows. Around February 28, 2003, the OHR hired two law school interns to assist with this review. Additionally, for the last two weeks, the Legal Unit has been focusing exclusively on conducting legal sufficiency review of cases, rather than conducting training, reviewing training materials, attending mandatory training, representing complainants before the Commission, responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, updating Equal Employment Opportunity policies, drafting internal policies with regard to both the processing of cases and discussing cases with represented parties, and attending ethics and FOIA officer meetings.

The Legal Unit has also been reviewing cases to provide guidance on investigations and meeting individually with Investigators to provide them with one-on-one guidance on what additional information they must request from parties to complete the investigation of aged cases. This process, in addition to the quota of completing at least six investigations per month, has worked so well, that the Investigators were able to submit sixty cases to the Legal Unit for review since January 2003. The Legal Unit will continue their exclusive focus for at least an additional two weeks. The OHR expects to issue at least 20 additional determinations by the end of April 2003.

The OHR expects to meet its goal of reducing the backlog to 300 cases by the end of September 2003. The OHR's most aggressive goal for FY04 is to completely eliminate the backlog at the end of September 2004. This goal is in fact attainable because of the operational improvements that have already taken place. These operational improvements which I discussed at the OHR's March Oversight Hearing, together with law school interns and the Legal Unit, will provide the foundation for eliminating the backlog.

I have not hired attorney contractors and have no plans to hire attorney contractors to either investigate cases or prepare Letters of Determinations because the OHR now has legal expertise in house and outside attorneys are simply too expensive, given the size of OHR's budget.

Filling Vacancies by Hiring Additional Staff

The OHR also plans to hire additional staff for the remainder of FY03. The OHR hopes to hire a Deputy Director, a position that it has been without for approximately two years. The OHR also intends to hire another Intake Officer because given the number of new Complaints the office receives and the fact that the OHR currently only has two Intake Officers, customers must wait up to two months to set up their initial interview to discuss their allegations with an Intake Officer. Another Intake Officer will increase customer service by reducing that initial waiting time. I also intend to hire a permanent receptionist. The OHR has been using contractors in the past to fill this function. I also intend to hire additional administrative staff to support both the Intake and the Investigative Unit so that the Investigators and Intake Officers can spend more time on substantive work and less time on administrative work such as mailing correspondence and scheduling appointments.

Other FY04 Goals

Extensive Training with a Goal Toward Completing Investigations Within 120 days

The OHR's Intake and Investigative staff will be cross-trained and have the requisite skills to complete all investigations within 120 days. The OHR will achieve this result by providing an initial block of least 32 hours of training in FY03 to Intake Counselors and Investigators on legal and procedural requirements of the Human Rights Act and applicable federal statutes to improve efficiency. The 32 hours of training began on March 28, continued on April 4, and will end on April 14, 2003. However, the OHR will follow up on this training with monthly six-hour block of training in which the staff will also come together to discuss problem cases. The OHR will also conduct such training in FY04. The OHR's Compliance Officer, General Counsel and Attorney Advisor will conduct this training.

Community Outreach and Education

The OHR goal with regard to Education and Outreach which it will start but will not meet until FY05 is to conduct 10 annual education and outreach seminars for District residents, industry workers and governmental and private employees to increase the awareness of unlawful discriminatory practices enforced by the Human Rights Act. The OHR plans to have a schedule of events which will be published to the community on OHR's website and brochures will be available at the OHR for individuals who have no access to the web.

Additional Space and Support for the Commission

By September 2003, the OHR hopes to acquire additional space for the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights so that the current two hearing examiners may have their individual offices; that hearings and other status conferences may be conducted in appropriate space; that paralegals, interns, or volunteers working with the Commission will have appropriate work space; and that the Commission may have adequate space to store and retrieve case files. As mentioned above, this is another project that the restoration of the 183,000 to the OHR's budget allows the OHR to fund for FY03 through a request for reprogramming of funds and which the 48k which was transferred from personal services to "other serves" will help fund in FY04.

Enforcement of Executive Orders and Other Mandates Under its Jurisdiction

The OHR will also continue its enforcement of Executive Orders such as the Uniform Language on Non-Discrimination. The OHR recently sent correspondence to all agencies requesting that they submit documents depicting that they are in compliance with the Executive Order, amended even after the October 2002, Oversight Hearing which you held Mr. Graham, on Agencies compliance with the Executive Order. Agencies were requested to submit documents to the OHR on today, April 11, 2003.

This concludes my prepared testimony. I am happy to answer any additional questions that you may have at this time.


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