Wilburn testifies on OHR Budget 04/11/03
OHR testimony 10/21/02
Saunders discusses reforms at Office of Human Rights
COUNCILMEMBER JIM GRAHAM, CHAIR
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
LATINO AFFAIRS AND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20004
OCTOBER 17, 2003
RE: PR15-256 "Director of the Office of Human Rights, Kenneth L. Saunders Confirmation Approval Resolution of 2003"
Chairperson Graham and members of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Latino Affairs and Property Management, I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you again regarding my confirmation as Director, DC Office of Human Rights.
I want to begin by thanking Mayor Anthony Williams for nominating me for this position. I am truly grateful for his confidence and support and I welcome the opportunity to make human rights a priority in the nation's capital.
I also wish to commend both the Council of the District of Columbia and the current administration for their commitment to human rights by enacting one of the most comprehensive civil rights statutes in the United States, and by ensuring that sufficient resources exist for an effective Human Rights office in the District of Columbia.
I strongly believe that my qualifications and experiences have prepared me well for this unique position. I have worked directly with a diverse population similar to what we have here in the District - we have a very significant African-American population, an increasingly Latino population, a strong and active Gay, Lesbian and Transgender population, and a sizeable Asian and Pacific Islander population. I have also worked extensively with the United States Department of Justice Community Relations Service as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing Programs. I have directed Community Outreach and Coordinating Initiatives relative to human rights issues. I also developed a comprehensive Diversity Training program for all staff and subordinates involved in human rights. I have initiated new legislation as well as instituted policies and procedures to uphold human rights laws which ensure the protection of civil rights to all citizens. Most importantly, I have performed every function that exists in any human rights office from intake to adjudication of hearings, and have gained from that an understanding of the intricacies, linkages and relevance of each function leading to better overall coordination and management. I have personally conducted intake and investigations, directed training for government and private organizations and issued Letters of Determination. In my private sector capacity, I represented both plaintiffs and defendants in a variety of human rights and civil rights cases including race discrimination, age discrimination, sex discrimination, unlawful termination, just to name a few. Combined, I believe that these experiences make me exceptionally qualified for this position.
It is important to understand the current structure of the office. As the Director of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, it is my responsibility to set overall policy and establish performance targets, to supervise and evaluate staff, to administer the budget, to promote conciliation after a determination of probable cause, to issue final decisions on allegations of discrimination, to ensure compliance with all human rights laws in the District, and to conduct education, training and outreach to governmental and private sector entities. Since my arrival, in order to facilitate a more efficient and cohesive effort, I have restructured the office into the following divisions: I have combined intake and investigations into one division, and maintained the Compliance, Mediation and Legal divisions. The Office of Human Rights currently has a General Counsel and one (1) Attorney Advisor who render opinions that are sufficient to withstand legal scrutiny as it may arise.
Upon my arrival on June 16th 2003 and in the following weeks, I have identified, investigated and addressed the following deficiencies in the OHR:
- Aged cases: And this will be of special interest to you,
Council Member Graham, since you specifically asked about these cases at
our last meeting. When I arrived at OHR on June 16th. 2003, the number
of aged cases in the OHR inventory was 341. As you will recall, at the
beginning of this fiscal year, this number was 353. On September 30,
2003, we reduced this backlog to 299, even below our scorecard goal of
300. Therefore, Chairman Graham, in the nine and one-half months before
I arrived, the backlog had only been reduced a mere 12 cases or 3.4%,
whereas in the three and one-half months since my arrival, we have
successfully reduced it by 42 cases or 12.3%. This is a substantial
overall decrease in a very short time.
- Pending cases: For the recent fiscal year just ended, the
number of pending cases increased from 474 to 482 between October 1,
2002 and June 15, 2003. However, between my arrival on June 16th. and
September 30, 2003, we successfully reduced the total pending case
inventory to 411. Therefore, Chairman Graham, the number of pending
cases actually increased in the nine and one-half months preceding me,
and it actually decreased by 13.3% in my 3 1/2 months on board.
- Closed cases: Prior to my arrival, between October 1, 2002 and
June 16, 2003, the Office of Human Rights closed only 291 cases or 30.6
cases per month, whereas, in my 3 ½ months, we have successfully closed
227 cases or 64.9 cases per month. This represents a case closure rate
that is more than twice the rate before I arrived. It is, in fact, a
212% improvement in the case closure rate.
- Regarding the dollar value of benefits awarded to complainants,
the Commission awarded a total of $450,443 in the nine and one-half
months preceding me, whereas, since I arrived three and one-half months
ago, total awards equal $482,625. Again, we have increased awards in
this area from an average of $47,443. per month to $137,893. per month,
representing a 290.6% improvement.
- An inefficient Complaint procedure. We have now created a
"two-track" system whereby we begin the investigation process
concurrently with seeking mediation. This Office did not begin
complaint investigations until after mediation had been attempted. At
times, this would take months. This change will bring about much
faster resolution of cases.
- Development of Guidelines: There were no mediation standards or
guidelines. We have now developed the first in a series of guidelines
that are included in the package forwarded to your office.
- Non-compliance with legal Orders: Defendants were often not in
compliance with legal orders and this Office offered very little
enforcement support. To rectify this, my legal staff is now working
more closely with the Office of the Corporation Counsel to ensure
enforcement of these Orders occurs and to bring about speedier relief
- Accepting Complaints: Mere allegations are no longer enough to
docket a case with or office. In order to streamline the intake process
and accept cases, we now require evidence sufficient enough to establish
of a prima facie case of discrimination, prior to our taking the case.
- Modifying the Intake Process: We have modified the intake
process by combining the functions of Intake and Investigations. By
doing so, we have effectively increased the number of investigators.
Our investigators now look into the cases that are assigned to them,
prepare a Summary of Findings and submit them for review by our legal
staff to prepare Letters of Determination.
- Community Outreach, Training and Awareness: The Office lacked any meaningful programs for community outreach, training and awareness of human rights laws. I have made this one of my priorities. Prior to my arrival, the Office reached only 88 individuals in District agencies with its outreach, training and awareness. Since my arrival, we have already provided outreach, training and awareness to 366 individuals - 243 at District agencies, 93 at embassies, and 30 at Amnesty International.
Let me also share some good news at OHR since my arrival:
- OHR has successfully completed its annual HUD audit, which took
place on September 10, and 11, 2003. In the exit conference, HUD
officials complimented the changes which we have implemented, and
further indicated that there were no major discrepancies or
- As you know, the Office of Human Rights has been designated the
lead agency by Deputy Mayor Tillery for the Language Access Act.
Further, the OHR has been designated to lead the District of Columbia's
initiatives regarding the Latino Issues Strategic Team. These are two
major initiatives directed specifically at the Latino community. We
will be collecting data and providing various reports on the progress of
each District agency regarding its initiatives for the Latino community.
And, we have developed a "Diversity, Inclusion and Awareness Training in
the Workplace" model which is intended to be offered to all city
employees as well the public sector in the 2004 calendar year.
- I have implemented a productivity reporting system for all
supervisors and investigators, on a monthly basis. By doing so, I am
better able to manage the workflow and address potential problems before
- This Office has had a sometimes tenuous relationship with the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Since my arrival, I
have worked diligently in harmony with that office, to be fully open and
accountable for the HUD cases we handle, and to be forthright about the
problems we have encountered. As I stated earlier, I am proud to
report that we have just completed our HUD review and based upon the
exit conference with the HUD officials, they were very pleased with our
performance. Also, we recently submitted a grant proposal to HUD, to
add a Housing Investigator to our staff. This position will be 100%
- There was inconsistency in the manner in which our investigators
conducted investigations. Under my direction, my Compliance Office
developed an Investigator Training Manual and conducted 32 hours of
classroom training based upon the EEOC model, that was attended by all
of our investigators. In addition, this Office also conducted 8 hours
of HUD training to all investigators. I can assure you that the
investigators at OHR are now fully cross-trained to handle Intake and
Investigations, whether EEOC or HUD. My General Counsel, senior staff
and I met with each Investigator to determine what assistance they may
need or help with problems they may encounter in investigating
- I have filled 2 key positions - my Deputy Director and my Executive Assistant. My Deputy Director has over 21 years of service with the District in a variety of senior administrative positions, is familiar with the District's fiscal, contracting, procurement and personnel systems, and is able to instill administrative order to the Office.
Since my arrival, I have identified many deficiencies in the Office of Human Rights and have taken concrete steps and have successfully alleviated many of them. The steps I have chosen to implement have been those that would lead to long-term success, not just short term fixes.
In addition, I have established the following guidelines that we will use as we improve the operations at the DC Office of Human Rights. These are:
- # 1 - A total commitment from the person who heads the
I am totally committed to human rights and civil rights issues and
intend to make this office a model for other offices around the country.
- # 2 - A plan that establishes clear goals and clear
Upon my arrival, I met with each staff person and listened to his or her
concerns about the Office. I then set clear goals for each employee.
They now understand what my expectations are and how their work will be
evaluated. Moreover, I met with our external partners, specifically
EEOC and HUD, and sought their input to identify deficiencies and
clarify their expectations. I am pleased to report that in the few
months since I have been here, the improved working relationship between
our offices is palpable.
- # 3 - Accountability from and to each individual.
As I have stated, in order for us to reform the Office of Human Rights,
we must be accountable to ourselves, to the populations we serve and to
other agencies. I believe in setting clear goals, defining
expectations, and measuring results.
- # 4 - An aggressive and unconditional commitment to the plan,
- # 5 - A commitment to human capital, the driving force behind any organizational success.
Finally, I have committed and will continue to commit resources, most notably in the form of training and employee development, to the OHR's most valuable asset - it's staff.
In closing, I would like to emphasize my priorities as we plan for the future:
(A.) We must train staff at all District agencies on the importance of the human rights laws.
(B.) We must reach out to our Latino and other immigrant populations and become their advocates in the fight for basic human rights.
(C.) We must level the playing field for the gay, lesbian and trans-gendered community in DC.
(D.) We must create sufficient Training, Education and Outreach to the private sector, and
(E.) We must cease the practice of discrimination in housing and lending practices to minorities in the District.
In closing, I once again thank each and every member of this Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify before you today. I look forward to working with all members of City Council in an effort to fulfill the mission of the Office of Human Rights for the betterment of all in the District of Columbia.
At this time I am prepared to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you again for this opportunity.