GLAA statement on OHR budget 04/11/05
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Velasquez testifies for Office of Human Rights
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
PUBLIC OVERSIGHT HEARING
ďPerformance of the Office of Human Rights, FY2006 and FY2007 to dateĒ
Testimony by Gustavo F. Velasquez, Director
COUNCILMEMBER CAROL SCHWARTZ, CHAIR
COMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MARCH 2, 2007
The mission of the Office of Human Rights is to eradicate unlawful discrimination in housing, employment, educational institutions and public accommodations in the District of Columbia. In addition to its enforcement jurisdiction, OHR is also the Districtís advocate for the practice of good human relations and mutual understanding among the various racial, ethnic and religious groups in the city.
We operate 7 different programs, as well as oversee the activities of the Commission on Human Rights. Those programs are Intake and Investigation, Mediation, Fair Housing, Legal, Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance, Language Access, and Agency Management.
Our Intake and Investigations Unit handles all incoming complaints, determines whether a prima facie case has been established, and conducts full investigations. Once the elements of a prima facie case are identified, a case is docketed, and a copy of the Complaint is shared with the Mediation Unit, which initiates steps to resolve the matter before an investigation takes full course. If the Mediation Unit cannot resolve the matter, a full investigation is then conducted. At the conclusion of the Investigation, the Investigator prepares a Summary of Findings, and the file is then forwarded to the Legal Unit for issuance of a Letter of Determination. If probable cause is found, a conciliation session is scheduled. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, my Office certifies the case to the Commission on Human Rights for a public hearing.
The Legal Unit is also involved with many other aspects that entail legal knowledge, training and expertise. The legal unit reviews draft legislation, conduct research on the various District laws regarding employment matters and work closely with our Compliance Officer to ensure that the training we provide is consistent with existing federal and District laws.
A recent example of the legal review and analysis the Office of Human Rights conducts is our involvement during the introduction of two new protected classes over a year ago. We are very pleased to announce that ďGender identity or expression,Ē has been approved by District Council and Congress, and affords protection against discrimination to broader groups of individuals, including the transgender and transsexual population. Our second most recent protected class, genetic information, has also been approved. It is presently unlawful for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization to request or administer a genetic test to an employee or applicant for employment or membership, except under very limited circumstances. OHRís legal program is currently supporting the Mayorís Office by rendering information pertaining jurisdictions that have included discrimination against ex-offenders in their respective statutes.
Our Compliance Unit is responsible for handling conciliations, providing EEO and other training to District agencies, and engaging in outreach and education with public and private entities.
Our Fair Housing Unit handles discrimination complaints that are housing-based. They also attend community forums and neighborhood meetings to provide literature and raise awareness to both landlord and tenants concerning their rights and obligations under the Federal and Districtís housing and human rights laws. Housing cases are processed similarly to employment cases. That is, the investigative process simultaneously takes place while we attempt to reach a settlement through mediation. If mediation is successful, all parties sign a Settlement Agreement and an enforceable Order. If mediation is unsuccessful and the investigation concludes in a finding of Probable Cause, the Complainant may make a choice. The case is either certified to the Commission for a hearing or the DC Attorney General may file in Superior Court. This election only occurs in housing cases.
I wonít go into much detail pertaining the Commission on Human Rights, as the Chair person outlined earlier their functions and achievements. I just want to emphasize my commitment to working with all Commissioners as we find ways to expedite cases that have been certified by my office.
Finally, Madam Chair, let me briefly address the functions of the Language Access program. This program provides oversight and coordination with all covered District agencies. OHR has an ongoing communication with the Language Access Coalition, the Latino and Asian Affairsí offices, and other community stakeholders to ensure that the goals are consistent with the requirements of the Act. We have made some progress in implementing this program and we make every attempt to ensure that District agencies mandated to comply with this law understand their obligations.
Madam Chair and members of the Committee: let me outline specific progress we have made at the Office of Human Rights in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 to date.
With respect to our case management activities:
- Backlog or Aged Cases
Aged cases, commonly referred as backlog, are cases that have been in the OHR inventory for more than 270 days. In fiscal year 2006 the backlog was reduced from 152 to 103 cases. This was a reduction of 32 percent. Iím pleased to inform that since I began my directorship, the backlog has been reduced by an additional 19 percent; from 121 cases on January 2nd to 98 cases reported yesterday.
- Pending Cases
Pending cases is the total number of cases, including aged cases. At the end of fiscal year 2006, the total inventory was 363 and in fiscal year 2007 to date, we have 330 cases. In my short tenure of 2 months, inventory of cases has been reduced by 4 percent.
- Docketed Cases
In 2006, OHR established a goal to docket 90% of cases within 5 business days. Iím pleased to report that the agency met this goal entirely. So far in 2007, we are docketing not 95 but 100% of cases within 5 days. According to the last fiscal year, the average number of complaints originating at the office is 10 per week, 42 per month and 504 per year. From the total number of employment complaints in 2006, 19 percent were complaints against DC government agencies and 81 percent were complaints against private sector employers. Also, from the total number of complaints in 2006, a small 3.8 percent were found probable cause for discrimination.
- Cases transferred to Investigations
In 2006, OHR also established a goal to transfer 60% of cases to Investigations within 45 calendar days. The agency exceeded this goal by transferring 100% of cases within the 45-day period, and Iím committed to ensuring that we continue meeting the goal.
- Monetary Awards
Through our mediations and settlements, Complainants were awarded a total of $1.3 million in 2006. An impressive 26% of cases mediated were successfully settled, which proves the value of the mediation program in reducing the cost to DC government and employers. To date in 2007, we have awarded almost a half million dollars. We are extremely pleased with the progress made in negotiating settlements and awards for Complainants and I believe that we have certainly sent the right message to employers and landlords in the District. We have been vigorous in making sure that Complainants receive just compensation for the discriminatory acts against them.
- Outreach and Education
For fiscal year 2006, OHR established a goal of reaching at least 3,000 District residents through our outreach and education assignments. The agency also surpassed this goal by reaching 3,262 individuals. Having been the prior Director of the Office of Latino Affairs, I believe one of the qualities I bring to this job is my expertise in outreach and community involvement. Even though I am pleased with the target for outreach, I intent to monitor our activities so that we are not in the business of just passing literature to constituents, but we are educating them about their rights and responsibilities, informing them of their options in cases of discrimination, and evaluating the effectiveness of our public education efforts through the number, scope and quality of our future investigations. This is the shift we face today in measuring accountability in government. A shift that moves us away from just output or volume of activities Ö.to tangible outcomes for the people we are reaching.
Finally, in the area of outreach and education, Iím pleased to inform that in 2006 OHR conducted a mandatory 32-hour training to all EEO counselors throughout the D.C. government; and additional training to DC agencies was performed in areas of sexual harassment, diversity, cultural competence and language access, and EEO-customized training for managers. In total, for 2006, 59 agencies and over 1,500 DC employees received training through OHR. In 2007, we are already conducting training for 4 agencies, and Iím confident we will meet our goals for the remaining of this year.
- Language Access
Concerning compliance with the Language Access Act of 2004, Iím also pleased to inform you that according to the goals and objectives intended for 2006, the expectations were met. OHR created a website and intranet site dedicated to language access; 6 additional DC agencies phased in successfully; we funded quality control testing in other languages through Customer Service Operations; we sponsored a ďtranslations driveĒ to disseminate vital documents in other languages to community groups and service providers; and we met uninterruptedly with the Language Access Coalition to, among other reasons, outline amendments requested to the Act.
For 2007, Madam Chair, I am committed to improve language access efforts across the District. In my own personal view as new Director, we are not doing enough. I believe it is incumbent upon each Director of the 25 agencies listed in the law, to do whatever is necessary to increase the number of bilingual hires throughout their organizations, and particularly in public contact positions. For the past weeks our Language Access Director and I have began to meet with newly appointed Directors to provide them a summary of the requirements and to outline where their agencies stand with respect to compliance. Agencies will have our unconditional support, but they must be held accountable.
In 2007 we are well underway to open up a new interpreters training funded entirely by OHR. Participants will be a mix of government employees and community members representing all 5 languages specified by the Act, and upon graduation they will be able to provide free interpretation services for a wide range of government services.
In addition, OHR will be launching this year a cost effective measure to store hundreds of translated documents into a new WorldServer automated translation system. This system will be administered by OHR, with support from OCTO, and will serve as both depository and automatic translator for future documents the government will like to update in any of the 5 languages required by the Act.
We plan to continue working closely with OLA, OAPIA, the newly established Office of African Affairs, and the Language Access Coalition to finalize the rules and regulations and make public the process through which OHR will investigate and enforce language access irregularities.
- Federal (HUD) Grant
OHR and HUD entered into an agreement in 2004 whereby OHR played a key administrative role for a training academy funded by HUD. To cover the services that we provide, OHR retained approximately 15% of the grant that was awarded. Due to a change in leadership at HUD in early 2006, decisions pertaining the training academy changed radically. HUD decided it was in their best interest to subcontract someone that would not only pay bills on behalf of the academy, but that would entirely manage and operate this academy. As result, HUD informed OHR it did not longer required its services. To my knowledge, we have drawn down a total of $1.2 million, which represents the entirety of the federal funds owed to OHR. These federal funds will serve to offset a large deficit encountered in salaries this fiscal year and a deficit projected for 2008.
- Old Cases
You also inquired, Madam Chair, information about the oldest cases we hold without a resolution. OHR reports that its oldest case under investigation is from 2004. However, among cases held at the Commission, the oldest case is from 1996. In order to address this problem, we have reorganize the work of the Legal unit so that an in-house attorney can take on additional Commission cases while we find a permanent solution through pro-bono legal services.
- Annual Report
You also asked, Madam Chair, about our ability to elaborate an updated annual report for the Office of Human Rights. Iím pleased to report that Iím holding here a complete report of our most recent fiscal year. My staff worked hard during the last few days to finalize it and even though Iíd like to take the credit for it, I can only thank them. This copy is for you and we will have this report released to the public through our website next week.
- Workplace posters
Finally, during the last hearing an issue was brought up regarding updated workplace posters for government and private employers based in the District. These posters are extremely important to make employees and the public aware of their rights in employment, housing, educational institutions and public accommodations. The release of these posters has been particularly pressing due to the 2 new protected categories approved last year. Iím also holding here small copies of the new posters for you, Madam Chair, and Iím please to report that we have made these posters public and have issued a press release to announce their availability.
I once again thank you Madam Chair, and each member of this Committee for the opportunity to testify before you today. Iím ready to answer any questions you may have.