GLAA submits statement on OHR FY 2007 budget
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GLAA submits statement on OHR FY 2007 budget


GAY AND LESBIAN ACTIVISTS ALLIANCE OF WASHINGTON
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013

April 10, 2006

The Honorable Vincent Orange
Chairman
Committee on Government Operations
John Wilson Building
14th & Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Mr. Orange:

Please accept this letter as the formal statement for the record from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) for your April 3 hearing on the proposed FY 2007 budget for the Office of Human Rights (OHR).

OHRís FY 07 budget is proposed at $4,875,000, split almost evenly between federal and local funding. We are pleased that the Mayorís request reflects an increase of $102,000 in local funds for OHR operations in FY 07, partially offsetting a decrease of $259,000 in federal funds due to the early termination of the HUD Fair Housing Academy grant. Last year, in contrast, the Mayorís budget only provided a $4,000 increase in local funding. The $102,000 increase in local funding will be devoted to the Language Access Program and salary increases.

OHRís budget would support 30 staff positions, including 2 dedicated for the Language Access Program. We are pleased to learn from OHR Director Kenneth Saunders that the 3 staff positions formerly funded from the Districtís 15% cut for managing the HUD Fair Housing Academy will not be lost with the termination of the contract, since funds from this source from earlier years have not been committed and are still available for this purpose.

We are pleased that OHR continues to make good use of whatever funds are sent its way. The number of so-called ďagedĒ cases, 341 when Mr. Saunders became head of OHR in June 2003, has been cut by more than half to just 150 cases as of the end of February; his ďscorecard goalĒ had been to reach 175 cases as of the end of FY 2006 last September, a goal plainly exceeded. The total number of cases (aged and otherwise) now stands at 350, also representing a substantial decline over the past three years. This total was 432 cases at the end of FY 2004.

Mr. Saunders has set himself a worthy and ambitious goal for FY 2007: To cut this total caseload from its current level of 350 to just 150. But even in light of OHRís great gains in productivity, we find it difficult to believe that he can manage to cut the caseload more in one year than he has done in the past three years combined. Accordingly, we urge this Committee to steer additional funding to OHR to make this goal achievable.

More generally, we feel that the true goal at OHR is to attain an average span of 270 days from the time a case is docketed to the time that OHR issues a finding of probable cause. This would match the standard set by the federal EEOC and at many state and local agencies as well. Mr. Saunders told us not long ago that even now, it probably takes OHR about 270 days to process a case -- once the OHR staff gets to it. Not surprisingly, the backlog of pending cases forces serious delays in beginning any new case in earnest. Funding should be boosted until OHR can indeed start serious work on a case very soon after it is docketed.

In the meantime, we recommend that one of Mr. Saundersí explicit scorecard goals should be measuring and reducing the average time it takes between a case being docketed and the issuance of a finding of probable cause. We are confident that had such a goal been in place over the last few years, it would indeed reveal solid progress.

Before concluding, we wanted to update this committee about a serious problem we testified in detail about during last monthís oversight & performance hearing for OHR: The deeply-entrenched bias at the Fire/EMS Department against transgendered people. On March 30, in testimony before the Judiciary Committee on this same issue, we urged members of that Committee to earmark some FY 2007 funds in the Fire/EMS budget for the development and implementation of a training program to teach all Department staff how to treat members of the GLBT community with dignity and respect. OHR could no doubt serve a useful role in helping to develop and perhaps even oversee such training; if that would require this Committee to provide OHR with some appropriate funding support, we hope you will be accommodating.

Earlier this week, Kenda Kirby, who was hired a few years ago to develop the Fire/EMS Departmentís Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training Program but then systematically harassed and stymied in her efforts, reminded me of another sign of the Departmentís betrayal of our community. Ms. Kirby had successfully constructed a 40-member advisory committee for the Department representing a broad spectrum of the LGBT community, and the Department announced its formation with great fanfare. But Chief Adrian Thompson then proceeded to dismantle the advisory committee before its second meeting, citing budget limitations--even though, Ms. Kirby reminds us, a budget had already been appropriated. Clearly, the Department needs outside intervention to address its homophobia and transphobia.

At the March 3 oversight & performance hearing, we were very pleased to hear you, Mr. Orange, express your own personal interest in this situation and pledge your continuing efforts to see this problem resolved. We hope you and your Council colleagues will apply full-court pressure on Chief Thompson as long as necessary.

Thank you, and best wishes.

Sincerely,

Craig Howell
Human Rights Project Director

Cc: Councilmember Adrian Fenty
Councilmember Jim Graham
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Carol Schwartz
Kenneth Saunders, Office of Human Rights


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