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Velasquez testifies on his nomination for Office of Human Rights
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
PR17-0027 “Director of the Office of Human Rights,
Gustavo F. Velasquez Confirmation Resolution of 2007”
COUNCILMEMBER CAROL SCHWARTZ, CHAIR
COMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
FEBRUARY 9, 2007
Madam Chair Carol Schwartz and members of the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations.
My name is Gustavo Velasquez, and I sit in front of you today …with the genuine aspiration to continue serving, without distinction, all residents and employers of the District of Columbia; this time as the Director of the Office of Human Rights. I am honored to having become Mayor Fenty’s choice for this important job, and I am grateful for the Mayor’s confidence.
I wish to commend the Council of the District of Columbia 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 city, and I look forward to working with you Madam Chair, and all other members of this Committee, to keep on with this promise.
To begin with, let me state my ultimate goal, should I become confirmed: ……….to make human rights the number one priority in the nation’s capital.
I strongly believe that my qualifications and experiences have prepared me very well for this unique position.
I am a product of a community that in this country has struggled, and continues to make great effort, for equal rights. First as an immigrant, and then as a proud citizen of the United States, I have studied and become familiar with our country’s civil rights movement; a movement whose results, in spite of progress and achievement, remain incomplete.
I’m proud of my more than 10-year record in the non-profit, private and government arenas. I have raised the standards, productivity, and quality of the services and organizations I have been a part of during my career. I have provided evidential analysis and recommendations for new programs and new policies under my jurisdiction….in every position I’ve held. I have advocated for people in great need, whether living with AIDS, lacking affordable and decent housing, recently arrived to America, presenting behavioral and mental problems, dropping out of school, or unable to read and write. In all those instances, I’ve work with talented professionals, other advocates, community groups, and policy makers to gain successful outcomes in the lives of underserved and disenfranchised people.
Madam Chair…..my vision for The DC Office of Human Rights is one that upholds in the most deliberate, wide-ranging and inclusive ways…..the organization’s mission: the eradication of unlawful discrimination. We will achieve this vision by doing the following:
- we will consolidate the agency’s functions into one integral and interrelated process that will guarantee the most comprehensive and quality investigations…. without compromising productivity;
- we will also intensify our advocacy role for the practice of good human relations and mutual understanding among the various racial, ethnic and religious groups in the District of Columbia;
- we will increase the knowledge of residents and employers about the most essential rights and responsibilities they have as citizens; and,
- we will ensure that residents all over the city have a better understanding of the mandate and duties of the DC Office of Human Rights.
Allow me, Madam Chair, to outline specific steps I plan to act on during my first year in this position:
- The Office of Human Rights, under my watch, will streamline its administrative functions, which are at this point scattered across the agency and whose people responsible for them include investigators, program supervisors and attorneys.
- The Office of Human Rights will balance its 2007 budget and make adjustments to the 2008 plan, pending approval from the City Administrator and the Mayor, to avoid further deficits without compromising the quality of operations.
- The Office of Human Rights will maintain the number of aged cases to less than 150, and will begin a plan to keep it below 100 by next fiscal year. Since my first day on January 2nd, the backlog has already been reduced by almost 20%, from 130 cases I found to 109 backlog cases this week. We will continue making strides to an even lower number of aged cases until we can eventually eliminate the backlog in its entirety.
- The Office of Human Rights will also work with the administration and the Council to achieve and maintain a vibrant Human Rights Commission with quorum at all times; and we will expedite cases at the Commission by having every Complainant represented by legal Counsel.
- The Office of Human Rights will create and submit as soon as this month, a new Procedures Manual. Long overdue, this manual will establish a firm policy for the handling of investigations and most importantly, will standardize the actions required by the agency’s personnel to maximize resources and provide the best quality in our work.
- The Office of Human Rights will make improvements in the way both intake and mediations are conducted. These measures will help establish prima facie elements of each case early in the process and enable better and faster resolution of cases.
- The Office of Human Rights will make it a priority to improve and increase awareness, education and public information to government personnel, DC employers, workers, landlords and residents, about discrimination, equal opportunity, and the legal channels to resolve disputes.
- The Office of Human Rights will engage the Federal Government to secure additional resources to local dollars. OHR has lost a very important federal grant, and will do everything we can to replenish those funds.
- The Office of Human Rights will work with the newly established CapStat Accountability Program to refocus the agency’s performance indicators to outcomes and not only quotas, numbers of cases or timelines.
- The Office of Human Rights will strengthen relationships with our partners at the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to exchange best practices and leverage more capacity and knowledge through training and staff development.
- The Office of Human Rights will reinforce DC customer service standards and we will works towards becoming the most customer oriented agency in our city.
- The Office of Human Rights will, under my watch, intensify our outreach efforts in the housing field. Given the housing affordability crisis the District is faced with, we must double our work to protect discrimination of any kind in rental properties and mortgage lending institutions.
- And, finally, among other measures, the Office of Human Rights will once and for all make government understand its obligations with the language access act and will works toward shifting the definition of compliance from the submission of plans and reports to the appropriate staffing of bilingual and multilingual personnel in our government.
It is my objective, Maddam Chair, to work very closely with my peers and colleagues in strengthening ways that make DC Government the example of respect and assurance to civil rights and equal justice. In the last few weeks I have not been pleased with the amount of complaints we processed from DC government agencies. You have my word that I will work diligently to have this pattern changed through education, awareness and training.
I have begun engaging the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities in an open dialogue to make OHR attentive and responsive to their needs. I plan to continue opening the same avenues of communication with leaders and members of communities representing the wide range of constituents we serve. My philosophy in public service, and specifically in this new position, is one that respects the particular demands of different communities, but always acting with honesty and transparency, and in the name of the law.
Maddam Chair and members of the Committee. I’m very excited about this opportunity. I able and ready to the challenge, and look forward to a very productive relationship with all of you to fulfill the mandate of the District Civil Rights Act, and all other federal and local applicable laws under our enforcement jurisdiction.
As I said at the beginning, we have made great progress. The Nation’s Capital remains the heart and soul of our history for equal rights. We will build up to making the promise of justice a reality for us and future generations.
Thank you and I’m ready to answer any questions you may have.