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


DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS


PUBLIC OVERSIGHT HEARING
“Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request for the Office of Human Rights”
Testimony by Gustavo F. Velasquez, Director

COUNCILMEMBER CAROL SCHWARTZ, CHAIR
COMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

APRIL 18, 2007
10:30AM

PREPARED STATEMENT


Madam Chair Carol Schwartz and members of the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations. My name is Gustavo Velasquez and I am here today to present testimony on the Office of Human Rights fiscal year 2008 budget request.

This budget request is necessary to fulfill the organization’s mission pursuant to the DC Civil Rights Act of 1977, as amended, the DC Family and Medical Leave Act of 1990, the DC Parental Leave Act of 1994, and the DC Language Access Act of 2004. In addition, the office has specified enforcement mandates under Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The proposed budget for the Office of Human Rights is set at three million, one hundred and thirty two thousand, four hundred and nine dollars ($ 3,132,409.), an increase of 15 percent from fiscal year 2007. This budget is divided as follows: Two million seven hundred and seventy eighty thousand dollars ($2,778,000) from local appropriated funds, which represents an increase of 11.7 percent, and three hundred and fifty four thousand dollars ($354,000) from federal funds, an increase of 48.9 percent.

Over the past few months, we have been engaged in discussions with city officials regarding our 2008 budget request and I am pleased to report that the funding approved by this administration, fully provides the resources needed to fulfill the agency’s mandate and goals for the entire fiscal year.

This budget provides sufficient funding to address the cases we administer annually; to meet the requirements of the Language Access Act of 2004; to provide training, education and public awareness to government agencies, community groups and residents on their civil rights and responsibilities; and to successfully meet all the goals and objectives described in our accountability scorecard.

The proposed budget also authorizes full funding for a total of 31 positions. Four positions are assigned to the agency management program; two positions for the legal unit; four positions to the fair housing program; three positions to the mandatory mediation program; twelve positions to the intake and investigations program; three positions to the Human Rights Commission; and two positions are included for the oversight of the Language Access Act.

As you know, Madam Chair, OHR is the lead agency for the Language Access program and is required to provide coordination, technical assistance and enforcement to all covered entities, to monitor their language access plans and ensure compliance with the Act, to monitor the activities of the Language Access Coordinators located within District agencies, and to represent the Executive branch in rendering progress reports to the City Council.

Relevant changes in our proposed budget from local funds include the following:

As for federal funds, the proposed budget of $354,000 includes two different work share agreements. The first one is an agreement executed with the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department in the amount of $138,000 to investigate housing discrimination cases under the Fair Housing Act; the second is for an estimated $100,000 from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate dually-filed cases in employment. In the case of the fair housing agreement, the federal government pays our agency $2,400 per case, if the case is closed within 100 days of being docketed. EEOC, on the other hand, has agreed to pay $550 per case in the upcoming year.

The remaining federal budget of approximately $100,000 represents carried over funds from the administrative fee charged to HUD for the management of the National Fair Housing Training Academy. The grant for this Academy, as we have discussed in recent hearings, ended in 2006.

By expenditure line item, the budget is as follows:

Our goals for fiscal year 2008 are as follows:

During the remaining of 2007, OHR will engage the CapStat program to identify additional outcome-based goals to increase the agency’s accountability and effectively reflect the work that is not being factored with the measures in place.

Before closing Madam Chair, I would like to bring two important issues to your attention:

First of all, let me address the administration’s position to the separation of the Commission of Human Rights’ budget from the budget designated to the Office. It is my strong belief that such separation of budgets will neither cause a positive effect on the mandate of the Commission, nor will generate a benefit to the parties involved with Commission cases. It may actually end up hindering its ability to effectively discharge the functions the law prescribes to this essential body.

As you know, the reason that originated the dialogue of the separation of budgets was the fact that OHR and the Commission perform different functions, and as such, they must preserve full independence. In response, Madam Chair, I have spoken with your office and submitted a letter that specifically addresses the firewall protection that exists between both entities; protection that serves well the interests of District residents who have been discriminated against, and whose cases have been certified to the Commission.

You can rest assure that there is absolutely nothing that puts at risk both the independence of the Commission and the transparency of the relationship between Office and Commission. As for the budget, the Director of OHR must approve expenditures for the Commission according to need and priority. Budget consultations occur on an ongoing basis, and we have the benefit of incurring additional costs for the Commission in lieu of a bigger office budget that can allow so. The best example of this consultation and approval process occurs today, where, in spite of budget pressures for OHR, the Commission is funded with more FTEs than any prior year, as well as sufficient funds for training, court reporting and other needs.

Madam Chair, I propose that instead of a complete separation of budgets, which will in turn create the need for a separate, independent administrative agency within the Executive branch, OHR works with the CFOs office to create a separate index within the Office’s budget structure. This index will identify funds set aside exclusively for the Commission, and will serve only as a reference in the event that a need for more resources becomes imminent.

The last issue I would like to bring to your attention, Madam Chair, pertains to a request made in writing to your office to support an amendment to the budget support act of 2007 aimed at transferring $75,000 unspent funds from fiscal year 2007 into fiscal year 2008.

These funds, Madam Chair, are one-time local appropriated funds that the Council approved to OHR for 2007 for the operation of a newly acquired automated translation system. This system was purchased by the city in 2006 with the purpose of saving thousands of dollars in translation services to the entire government. With these funds, OHR was to get the system up and running, which included the creation of a glossary of terms used across DC government, and the alignment of translations of vital documents into the system.

In order to operate this system properly, Madam Chair, we will need half of the one time allocation in the upcoming fiscal year to build the glossary and alignment. OHR plans to contract in the next few weeks a private firm that will help the agency complete the initial steps, but the time left over in fiscal year 07 does not permit the completion of the project. Amending the support act in a way that allows the use of remaining unspent funds to OHR will help this agency extent the contract into fiscal year 08 and get the system ready.

Ultimately, this effort will enable thousands of District residents who are limited English proficient rely in timely and accurate printed information in other languages.

In closing, and as I indicated earlier, I am confident that with this budget, we can accomplish the goals we have set for fiscal year 2008. While I’m sure that additional resources can further enhance both our office as well as the Commission, I am keenly aware of the fiscal priorities of this administration and the Council. I am thankful to the Mayor and City Administrator for their support of the Office of Human Rights and I am proud of the accomplishments we have achieved in the last three and a half months. As we move forward, we will continue to examine ways to improve our overall operation and work closely with the CFO, you Madam Chair, and the rest of the Committee, to utilize our budget prudently and effectively.

Thank you for this opportunity and I am now prepared to answer any questions that you may have.


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