While others may pay lip service to ethics reform, Chairman Brown’s effort to reform ethics in the District has been focused on addressing the fundamentals: (1) ensuring that the laws are clear and comprehensive, and (2) providing the resources needed to help District employees follow the law.
The rules are scattered throughout federal and local laws, with few clear standards and little attention to enforcement. Many of these laws have significant loopholes. For example, under current law, public officials are not required to disclose affiliations with not-for-profits doing business with the District government or disclose real property obtained outside the District’s borders.
Furthermore, meaningful enforcement of the District’s ethics rules simply does not exist. Although the Office of Campaign Finance and the Board of Elections and Ethics technically are responsible for enforcing our ethics laws, in many cases, the only punishment available for serious ethics violations is a written admonishment or reprimand.
To address this situation, Chairman Brown introduced the Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act of 2011, which would address many of problems in the current ethics laws. Since introduction of that legislation, the Council has seen the introduction of nine ethics-related bills. By itself, this represents a major step forward from less than one year ago, when it seemed as though ethics reform would never be a reality for the city. By the end of this year, the Council will pass Ethics Reform legislation.
In addition, while legislation is pending in the Council, Chairman Brown has already started to implement programs and controls within the Council to ensure that our employees have the necessary training and resources to avoid ethical pitfalls. Working with Councilmembers Bowser, Catania, and Mendelson, he has helped develop a Code of Official Conduct that would govern the actions of Councilmembers and staff, and serve as a single reference to ensure compliance with applicable laws.
In addition, under Chairman Brown’s leadership, the Council has instituted a mandatory training course for new Council employees. Finally, he has directed the General Counsel to implement an internal confidential financial disclosure program for the Council to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Prudent budgeting prepares the District for the future by providing the flexibility to make important investments and respond to emergencies. The Council’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget provides a deposit, albeit relatively small, to rebuild the District’s fund balance, which helps start to fulfill our promise to Wall Street to do so. Over the next three years, Chairman Brown will work with colleagues and the mayor to strengthen the District’s long-term financial stability and demonstrate the Council’s ability to spend within means and grow the District’s economy. Having used the District’s fund balance to pay for significant recent expenditures, it is necessary now to restore the undesignated and unrestricted portion of those funds. Increasing the total fund balance to $900 million will improve the city’s cash flow and send a signal to the credit agencies that, although federal retrenchment is looming, the District’s leaders are responsible stewards of the funds that are within their control.
Between 2000 and 2010, the District’s local operating expenditures grew by 20 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Several agencies have led this expansion. For example, during this period, the District’s annual payment into the police and firefighters’ retirement system grew by 114 percent; Child and Family Services Agency spending rose by 74 percent; and the D.C. Public Charter School subsidy grew by 59 percent. These numbers represent real expansion, not the effect of inflation.
Chairman Brown strongly believes that the District is a better place to live now than it was 10 years ago, but maintaining the growth in government is unsustainable, especially in light of the serious threats facing the city’s economy and tax base. The District cannot continue to expand government unless the population and economy grow at a parallel rate.