Howell testifies on FY08 budget for Office of Human Rights
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Howell testifies on FY08 budget for Office of Human Rights

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139


Before the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operation

APRIL 18, 2007

Councilmember Schwartz and Fellow Residents:

Good morning. My name is Craig Howell. I am Secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA). We will be celebrating our 36th anniversary with a reception tomorrow evening at the Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle, where we will be presenting our Distinguished Service Awards to former Police Chief Charles Ramsey, former Office of Human Rights Director Kenneth Saunders, Sheila Alexander-Reid, the DC Appleseed Center, Charles Francis and Jason Juffras. We hope to see you and many of your colleagues there.

We are very happy with the FY 2008 budget proposed for OHR by Mayor Fenty. OHR’s new Director, Mr. Gustavo Velasquez, was kind enough to meet with me earlier this month for an extended briefing on the new budget and an update on his current plans and initiatives. Among other highlights, OHR would be getting $250,000 to secure funding for several positions added this last year, including two new hearing examiners for the Commission on Human Rights. OHR will be receiving another $100,000 to cover increased personnel costs associated with this year’s pay increases, and another $25,000 to absorb a 19% jump in fixed costs assigned to his agency. As a result of these various augmentations, OHR will be able to fill, with local funds, virtually all the FTE positions it has been authorized.

We continue to be impressed by the energy, determination and imagination displayed by Mr. Velasquez since taking over the job of OHR Director in January. Building on a solid foundation left by his predecessor Ken Saunders, he has continued to whittle away at OHR’s once-intractable case backlog, which is now down to about 75 cases. To put the current situation into another perspective, anyone who files a complaint of discrimination today has an 80% chance that OHR will issue a finding of probable cause within 9 months. Considering that not so long ago it routinely took years before OHR would even began an investigation, this is a staggering accomplishment.

Mr. Velasquez has also completed the updating of the employment and similar notices that are required by law to be posted prominently in workplaces and other appropriate locations throughout the District, and is preparing a mass mailing to notify thousands of local employers of their obligation to put up these posters. He has prepared a one-page Fact Sheet explaining the meaning of “gender identity and expression,” a category explicitly added to the DC Human Rights Act of 1977 to clarify that our transgendered residents are protected from discrimination; we have suggested that he insert this summary into the mass mailing OHR is about to undertake.

One point Mr. Velasquez and I discussed during our meeting was whether the Commission on Human Rights should have its own line item in the budget. As a result of that discussion and a subsequent discussion with Commission Chair Deborah Dorsey Wood, we can now say we are content with the present arrangement.

This is a rare, if not unprecedented, opportunity for us to say that we cannot suggest any further boosts in OHR’s proposed budget. GLAA congratulates Mayor Fenty for providing the resources OHR needs to carry out its noble mandate.

Thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Further Notes on the Hearing

[Following my testimony, Councilmember Schwartz said she was happy that we’re pleased both with the proposed budget and with Mr. Velasquez. She remembers when we routinely complained to the Council about OHR’s backlog and other problems, and appreciates how much Messrs. Velasquez and Saunders have done to improve the agency’s performance. She added that even 9 months is too long to have to wait for a finding of probable cause; however, she did not suggest any additional funding to shorten the wait.

[She was also glad to see from my statement that there have some discussions about whether the Commission needs its own budget. She explained she had raised the possibility a few months ago on a logical, abstract basis, without committing herself to coming down on one side or the other. Mr. Velasquez, in his prepared testimony, vigorously opposed the idea.

[Mr. Velasquez confirmed that the backlog as of yesterday stands at 75 cases. She wondered why then the agency “goal” is to “reduce” the backlog to 150 cases; that has been the official “goal” for the last several years. Mr. Velasquez says the Administration is in the process of overhauling this and other “goals” throughout the DC government to make them more realistic.

[Mr. Velasquez said in his testimony that the FY 08 budget fully funds OHR’s authorized 31 FTEs, but when pressed, said actually there’s only enough for 29 spots to be filled. He will supply a fuller explanation of this anomaly for the record.]

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