By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO
The smell of chili dogs from a vendor, the sound of motorcycles floating by on just the rear wheel, maybe even the lines for crabs at the DC Wharf- all Washingtoniansl have their indicators that summer is underway in the nation’s capital. One of those lesser known indicators is that of the budget hearing process.
Each year the budget, which originates with the Executive Office of the Mayor, is presented to the Council of the District of Columbia for approval in mid spring. For the following months, committees sanctioned by the Council convene hearings for the public to provide feedback in support for or against proposed budgetary expenditures. The committees “hear testimony,” and develop recommendations based on the arguments offered. Ultimately, after hundreds of hours of testimonies, the Council hopes to deliver a budget that is balanced, fair and has taken the recommendation of both the Mayor and the residents of the District of Columbia into account.
On June 7, the Committee of the Whole (COW) met to receive testimony on the District’s small government agencies, including the D.C. Retirement Board, the Office of Budget and Planning, the New Columbia Statehood Commission, and the Council itself. The COW operates under the procedures of a committee, but comprises all the members of the larger body organized under the leadership of the chairperson.
The first agenda item for the hearing was the Council itself. This doesn’t actually deal with the salaries of the Council members, but rather the budget priorities for spending within the Council’s allotted budget.
The nature of testimony submitted varied, but there was strong support for the Council to fully fund a new agency, the Office of the Ombudsperson of Children and Families.
Witnesses made passionate arguments related to the potential impact such an office would have on the wellbeing of young people known to the Children and Family Services Agency (CFSA). Arguments were made that missing children like Relisha Rudd could have been saved as a result of an agency such as the Office of the Ombudsperson of Children and Families. Rudd, who disappeared in 2014, had not been seen in school for 18 days before anyone knew something was amiss.
“The government prepared a report saying it was not at fault… if an independent ombudsperson had prepared that report, the results may have been different,” said Child Welfare Monitor Marie Cohen.
The Ombudsperson would be centrally responsible for the improvement of outcomes for families previously or currently involved with CFSA. The new office is established through Council override of a Mayoral veto and this marks only the seventh time such an override has occurred since 1989.
Other portions of the hearing covered testimony from the official representatives of each agency, but there were no public witnesses and were, therefore, largely procedural requirements. Without public contribution, the assumption is that an agency is performing as reported and very little is done to increase oversight or make changes to budgetary expenditures.
To find out more about the budget hearing process, watch current or archived hearings or to sign up to provide testimony, visit www.DCCouncil.us.
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