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Advancing Inclusivity, Accessibility & Efficiency

As our Public Works & Operations budget oversight hearings for the FY 25 budget have continued this week, the trend of troubling cuts has likewise continued.

At the Office of Contracting and Procurement, I’m concerned a lack of resources dedicated to IT modernization will leave the agency—and the contracting services for 79 District agencies by extension —old-fashioned and out-of-date. At the Department of For-Hire Vehicles, whole programs that D.C. residents rely on for safe, affordable and accessible transportation will be eliminated because there was no long-term plan for financial viability—an issue this committee raised this time last year.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news: we heard from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs about progress to find housing for members of the LGBTQ+ community experiencing homelessness. We also heard more about plans that will increase the availability of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in D.C. this summer.

Our hearing for the Office of Contracting and Procurement raised several concerns. This office bears an enormous task: it provides contracting and procurement services to 79 District agencies. It is also tasked with ensuring all purchases are conducted fairly and impartially.

The pause on the PASS modernization project, a critical IT upgrade that has already cost significant resources, is troubling. Without it, the office and the District’s contracting services will continue to be outdated and inefficient. Persistent understaffing is also an issue. How do we ensure this doesn’t affect compliance with key legislation, such as policies aimed at shifting D.C. food purchases toward climate-friendly food (Green Food Purchasing Amendment Act of 2021) and fairly compensating nonprofits that provide D.C. government services (Non-Profit Reimbursement Fairness Act of 2019, which I introduced)?

I want to make sure that agency funding is being used to achieve our collective goals—not lapsing. We must hold the agency accountable to efficient and transparent service on behalf of D.C. residents.

At our hearing with the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, I said I would like to see some increases to the agency’s funding, despite most of the community offices under the jurisdiction of our committee receiving level funding in the proposed FY25 budget. Additional resources for veteran’s affairs and LGBTQ+ affairs could bolster the agency’s efforts to help make sure D.C. government is reaching everyone.

13 percent of District veterans live in poverty, nearly double the 6.9 percent national average. I asked witnesses how increased funding for the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs could help address this disparity and provide assistance to veterans facing housing and economic insecurity.

The LGBTQ+ community center project is stalled, and representatives from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs said funds are needed to move forward. Many LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness lack secure space to store their IDs and other essential documents that are necessary to apply for housing or for jobs, just one benefit this center would provide.

The Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs gave progress updates on two committee recommendations that have benefited the community. Last year, the committee recommended the office work with community-based organizations to provide LGBTQ+ cultural competency trainings to D.C. first responders. I was happy to hear that as of June, 900 first responders will have received the training.

The committee also recommended that the office work with the D.C. Housing Authority to better coordinate efforts to end homelessness. A new real-time portal allows the two offices to engage daily on the status of housing vouchers, providing and receiving accurate, up-to-date info. This is a great start.

We also heard about World Pride, which D.C. will host in 2025, a chance to celebrate our vibrant LGBTQ+ community and showcase the District. The Mayor’s proposed budget includes $5 million for the event, and as chair of the committee, I want to make sure there is a clear and transparent plan for spending and distribution of these funds, as well as a dedicated workplan and resources so that offices involved in the planning and execution of the event, like the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs, are able to absorb this workload and continue to deliver on the vital services they provide.

At our hearing with the Department of For-Hire Vehicles, we saw that many budget issues the committee flagged during last year’s budget process have come to pass. Multiple programs funded by federal dollars—including Neighborhood Connect and Promise Rides—will be eliminated because there was no plan for long-term sustainability.

This year’s budget does include a $7 million investment in the School Connect program, however, this is enough to continue the program through the upcoming school year only, with no increase in enrollment. I continue to have questions about the cost and overall effectiveness of the program, given that that the original idea was to simply subsidize taxi or rideshare for students, and liability concerns turned into the agency standing up a completely new transportation program.

The department’s proposed core budget sees no major changes for FY25. I’m concerned about the lack of investment in critical regulatory work, especially with a rapidly evolving ride hailing industry, highlighted by the testimony of several witnesses.

I was pleased to see the department will move forward on a pilot program to increase wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in D.C. this summer, using the $500K I put in the budget to help provide transportation options for everyone, regardless of physical ability. We’ve heard from residents that feel increasingly left out because of a lack of availability of these vehicles, and I look forward to seeing the results of the pilot program.

The mission of the agency is critical. I remain committed to working with the Department to shore up the necessary resources to provide safe, affordable and accessible transportation options across the whole of the District.

It’s not too late to be part of the budget process: I encourage you to testify, submit testimony, and contact your councilmembers to share your feedback on what should or shouldn’t be in the budget. The schedule for upcoming Committee on Public Works & Operations budget oversight hearings can be found here.

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