The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Congress

Transit


A business group suggests Congress impose changes to Metro. Is that a good idea?

Congress should make WMATA unconstitutional, says a local business organization, unless DC, Maryland, and Virginia make changes to the agency. These could include smaller board of only transit experts instead of elected leaders, no arbitration for labor contracts, and a dedicated funding source.


Photo by Ben Schumin on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5.

The idea comes from the Federal City Council, an organization of mostly business leaders and some other prominent civic individuals in Washington. Highly-respected former DC mayor Anthony Williams is its executive director.

Its chairman, Robert Flanagan of Clark Enterprises, and vice-chairman, W. Edward Walter of Host Hotels and Resorts, signed an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday. They suggest Congress withdraw its consent to the WMATA compact, the interstate agreement between DC, Maryland, and Virginia which established Metro—that is, unless the three step up and make changes.

The US Constitution (Article I, Section 10) requires Congress to approve any "Agreement or Compact" between states, like the WMATA compact. The op-ed says Congress could withdraw that consent and instead take over WMATA directly. Some recently suggested a federal takeover as the only way out of the predicament.

But the Federal City Council is suggesting an actual federal takeover as a step of last resort. Instead, Congress could threaten that step (as some members did with this bill regarding the Delaware River Port Authority, an interstate compact between Pennsylvania and New Jersey). Any change to the compact requires DC, Maryland, and Virginia to pass identical legislation (and then Congress to agree).

What would this mean? Would Congress's involvement make Metro better, or worse? It's clear that Metro really needs something to change—right now, it faces a nearly impossible short-term budget crunch and many long-term challenges without much end in sight.


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

What could change?

The op-ed lists some proposals for changing the compact, which I've reformatted into a list for ease of reference:

  1. "abolish the existing board and reestablish a smaller board using criteria based on experience and expertise in transit or logistics"
  2. "redefine the role of the board and limit its focus to the most critical issues facing Metro"
  3. "finalize the establishment of a federally compliant Metro Safety Commission"
  4. "outline a process for future compact revisions"
  5. "remove the mandatory-binding-arbitration provision associated with union contract negotiations"
  6. "require the jurisdictions to collectively address their commitment to provide dedicated funding for WMATA"
  7. provide "additional funding from the federal government ... with the achievement of both cost accountability and funding parameters as thresholds"
When evaluating this policy, we should ask the following questions:

First, would these changes fix Metro's problems?

Second, do we need Congress? Are these changes achievable without federal involvement, or would they not happen otherwise?

Third, is Congress likely to agree to impose these changes?

Fourth, would Congress impose other requirements that are detrimental to Metro?

Fifth, is this a legally valid approach?

Let's take them one by one.

1. Would these changes fix Metro's problems?

Governance changes make up the first two: (a) "abolish the existing board and reestablish a smaller board using criteria based on experience and expertise in transit or logistics" and (b) "redefine the role of the board and limit its focus to the most critical issues facing Metro."

The current WMATA board has four members from each of DC, Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government, all appointed in various ways. Some are elected officials (most in Virginia, none in Maryland); some are transit experts; some have other skills or perhaps not really any relevant experience at all.

It's widely believed that the board is too large (especially after it was expanded to add the federal members in 2009). And certainly some members have not brought much value to the board. It's worth noting that some elected officials have been effective and others ineffective; the same goes for expert members. Tom Downs and Mort Downey, both transit experts with long and notable resumes in the field, chaired the board during the Sarles era when the system decayed without us knowing about it, for example.

There has been much electronic ink spilled over the board's composition, and much more will in the future if this plan moves forward. I'm open to board changes—at this point, WMATA's problems are so dire that we need significant change—but it's important to understand what, exactly, the change is meant to achieve. Governance doesn't fix anything on its own, though it can lay the groundwork.

The current board has been very hands off with Paul Wiedefeld, letting him make most decisions. The board certainly should continue to be involved in decisions about budget, fare increases, and service cuts. Most of the current board debates are about those issues.

The value of a board of just transit experts is that it might waste less time learning the basics and could focus on the key issues, and hopefully provide effective oversight of Metro. The fear is that it would do so without listening to riders and lack the political connections to local jurisdictions. Right now, Metro depends on local governments for much of its money; defenders of elected officials say having board members who are involved in those budget process ensures Metro's needs are not ignored.

Safety: (c) "finalize the establishment of a federally compliant Metro Safety Commission" is not as controversial. Leaders in all localities agree that Metro needs a new safety oversight office. They have said they plan to get this done in early 2017, when the Maryland and Virginia legislatures are meeting.

Amendments: (d) "outline a process for future compact revisions"—I'm not sure what this one means. I am not aware of a way to change an interstate compact other than the current one, where signatories agree on a change and Congress gives its consent. I've asked the Federal City Council to elaborate.

Arbitration: (e) "remove the mandatory-binding-arbitration provision associated with union contract negotiations" is a key debate. Metro's unions can't strike, but instead, arbitrators resolve any contract dispute. In a 2011 contract negotiation, the arbitrator awarded 3% per year raises. WMATA said it couldn't afford that cost without raising fares; a judge ruled that didn't matter.

Some have called for a return to the model where strikes, rather than arbitration, resolve these disputes. It could be more disruptive, but it would force both sides to essentially make their case more publicly and fight it out. Today, local leaders and WMATA officials basically consider labor costs a factor they can't control at all.

Labor relations is a tough issue. On the one hand, unions were a strong force for building a strong middle class in the mid-20th Century, and riders want skilled workers who know how to do their jobs. On the other, sometimes inflexible work rules, in particular, hamstring organizations. And Metro is competing against other travel modes that don't involve unionized workers (or workers at all—if you drive, walk, or bike, you're your own worker), so it can only give so much.

Dedicated funding: (f) "require the jurisdictions to collectively address their commitment to provide dedicated funding for WMATA." Leaders including board chairman Jack Evans, DC mayor Muriel Bowser, leaders at the Council of Governments, and the Board of Trade have been trying to organize for dedicated funding. So far, the reception in Maryland and Virginia has been mixed, at best.

Finally, (g) "additional funding from the federal government" would of course be fantastic; the question is, is it possible?


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

2. Do we need Congress?

Congress' influence may be necessary to push a regional funding approach, item (f). We don't know for sure; the campaign for that has just gotten going. Perhaps an organized and sustained effort to sign up local business, civic, religious, and other leaders; get state, county, and city candidates on the record; and make the policy case in detail could succeed. Congress' pressure could speed that up, if Congress wants to do it.

The same goes for the governance changes, (a) and (b). DC, Maryland, and Virginia could change the compact. As above, I'm not yet persuaded that will fix the problems, but it's something to continue to discuss.

We don't need Congress to set up the safety commission, (c). We absolutely need it to get federal funding (g), but that could happen with or without compact changes.

Finally, removing arbitration, (e), is probably only going to happen with Congress. DC and Maryland, in particular, are unlikely to pass laws that eliminate a process which is currently quite favorable to labor.

3. Is Congress likely to agree to impose these changes?

A lot depends on who's in charge of the relevant committees in Congress. It's likely the Federal City Council has already been talking to some members of Congress.

Given the Republican control, support for (e), removing binding arbitration, is almost certain.

Many GOP members have taken a firm stance against any new taxes. A requirement that DC, Maryland, and Virginia provide a dedicated funding source would require some kind of tax, though not a federal one. Does that run afoul of their anti-tax pledges?

Would Congress provide any federal money? It seems a long shot, but perhaps in combination with some other of these provisions that they find more appealing, maybe there's a chance. Or maybe not.


Photo by angela n. on Flickr.

4. Would Congress impose other requirements that are detrimental to Metro?

The biggest question is whether getting Congress involved is playing with fire. Except the filibuster in the Senate (and that could even disappear), Democrats control no chamber of Congress, nor the White House, and won't be able to stop provisions unacceptable to them. If your primary goal is changing the labor relationship, maybe that's a positive, but what else?

Could certain members of Congress who have campaigned against cities, against coastal elites, and in particular against Washington, add their own ideas for changing Metro?

Could any of these happen?

  • Congress insists that Metro run less service and focus just on the most profitable service. Most service outside peak goes away and Metro becomes more like a commuter rail; regional buses are substantially cut and local jurisdictions take on more bus service.
  • Congress requires Metro to immediately sell some of its property, or requires it to immediately cover unused property in parking spaces, or some combination. Joint development becomes impossible; TOD becomes a far lower priority.
  • The formula which allocates costs between DC, Maryland, and Virginia is changed to be much more favorable to Virginia, which has more Republicans in Congress, at the expense of Maryland and/or DC.
  • The funding formula is changed to benefit exurban riders (with more Republican voters) to the detriment of the (more Democratic) core jurisdictions, such as a flat fare or a ban on parking charges.
  • Congress just prohibits a union at Metro entirely.
Hopefully none would happen; none of these would be a smart move, even for a GOP representative. They would kill Metro outright or make its problems worse by damaging its regional support. And if Congress wanted to kill Metro entirely, it could simply do that regardless. (So if you are a staffer for a GOP member of Congress, don't get any ideas!)

But it seems that the Federal City Council is really hoping the threat of Congressional action would spur DC, Maryland, and Virginia to take steps that they're not all otherwise willing to do to save Metro (whatever the consensus might ultimately be on which those are).

5. Is this a legally valid approach?

One other question is whether Congress can even legally withdraw its consent to an interstate compact. However, Ben Ross noticed a legal opinion that Congress can't actually do this:

Emeka Moneme of the Federal City Council said that their lawyers have given thought to this, and believe the case law and past experiences (such as the Delaware River one above) lead them to see it as a viable approach.

Plus, while we can't know which side the Supreme Court might ultimately take if it ever came to a lawsuit, Congress could impose its will in other ways as well (like with funding). Therefore, Congressional involvement is not an option to dismiss outright.

What do you think of the Federal City Council's proposals?

Politics


Tuesday is election day. Here's a recap of our endorsements.

Tomorrow is election day, one of our single biggest opportunities to make the Washington DC region even greater. Please vote! If you didn't vote early and are headed to the polls tomorrow, here's a recap of our recommendations on how to vote.


Photo by Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin on Flickr.

Where to vote

Not sure where your polling place is? Plug your home address into Google's voting tool, and it will tell you your polling place, your voting and ID requirements, and a pretty good roundup of what will be on your ballot:

Our (non-ANC) endorsements

Over the past several weeks, GGWash has released its official endorsements for a number of races. Per reader request, here they all are again, in one easy place to reference (or share).

We recommend area voters choose:

  • Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President
  • David Grosso and Robert White for DC Council at large
  • Mary Lord for DC State Board of Education
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton for DC Delegate
  • For DC's statehood referendum
  • LuAnn Bennett and Don Beyer for Congress in Virginia
  • John Delaney and Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland
  • For the Prince George's at-large council seat proposal
  • Against Montgomery County term limits
Read our rationales and more details on these races here.

ANC endorsements

Are you a DC resident but unsure of which race you vote in? Use ANCfinder.org to find out.

To determine this year's ANC endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

A note about ANC candidates noted as write-in: because they completed our survey long after we began to publish our endorsements (with the exceptions of Eve Zhurbinskiy and Nicole Cacozza, who submitted in early September), candidates had the opportunity to review our analyses before submitting their responses. While they had that advantage, we do believe our endorsed candidates would make for great commissioners and deserve your write-in vote.

ANCs Ward 1

 

ANCs Ward 2

 

ANCs Ward 3

 

ANCs Ward 4

 

ANCs Ward 5

 

ANCs Ward 6

 

ANCs Ward 7

 

ANCs Ward 8

 

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts. This is especially true for write-in candidates, whose biggest challenge is simply getting enough people to remember their name when they go to the ballot box.

History


There are tunnels under Capitol Hill. Here's how they got there.

A sprawling pedestrian tunnel system under Capitol Hill allows staffers and members of congress to move underground between the office buildings, Library of Congress, and Capitol building. Today they are an integral part of security on the Hill, but when they were first built it was for a far less important reason.


Back when Studabaker cars ran through the Senate's tunnels. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Originally there were only two tunnels: 1909 passageways that connected the Dirkson and Cannon buildings with the Capitol's basement. They were built because of Washington's disgusting weather, not for any security reasons.

The Washington Post wrote in 1907 that "The tunnels have been planned with the idea of providing an easy access to the offices, particularly in bad weather. By using them it will not be necessary for the senators and representatives to go out into the open at all in order to reach offices from the Capitol, or vice versa."


The Cannon Tunnel today. Photo from the office of Gregorio Sablan.

The Senate, accustomed to greater luxury as the "upper house," explored several people-mover systems for their tunnel. The House of Representatives thought about it, but ultimately decided that their members could walk. The raised and partitioned walkway in the Cannon tunnel shows where pedestrian traffic would have been separated from the never-built House subway.

Superintendent of the Capitol Elliott Woods initially wanted to use a Tunis Monorail in the Senate tunnel. This ambitious proposal featured an enclosed car that had an aerodynamic shape similar to that of a ship. Passengers would have sat inside on swiveling wicker chairs.

The Senate ended up going with a much more modest solution, bringing in custom-built Studabaker electric cars to shuttle senators back and forth along the short tunnel. The cars are shown in the image at the top of the article.

Enthusiasm was high for the system when it was initially built. Contemporary newspapers were full of stories about senators, tourists, and even Vice President Charles Fairbanks enjoying joy rides on the early automobile.

The Washington Post amusingly wrote that "the question of a speed limit in the subways has not been raised, but there will be no chickens in the road, and as the walk for pedestrians is fenced off, there is thought to be no reason why the senators should not have a run for their money if they wish."

The cars become a monorail

By 1915 the Senate had tired of the cars and was in search of elegant means of transportation. The Columbia Construction Company built a unique monorail to pass through the tunnels, constructing it at the nearby at the Washington Navy Yard for $9,500.

Senators could summon the carts by ringing a bell three times. According to a Washington Post article from the time, the wicker benches could accommodate "12 senators" or, rather absurdly, "36 pages."


The Senate monorail, with the front seat reserved for senators. Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

Another new tunnel

In 1958 when the east front of the Capitol was being expanded, they built an entirely new tunnel with a station under the Senate steps. The new tunnel had a modernized subway system, and the old car was moved to the Russell basement rotunda, where you can visit it today.


Here, the old tunnel is marked in yellow. Image from the Library of Congress.

The old tunnel was repurposed for the Senate recording studio, various mechanical shops, and a fallout shelter.

Crossposted from ArchitectoftheCapitol.org.

History


Part of the US Capitol building is in Rock Creek Park

There are heaps of sandstone in the heart of Rock Creek Park that used to be a part of the Capitol Building. They were taken down in 1958 when part of the iconic building was expanded and rebuilt in marble. Now, they've kind of been forgotten.


Photo by the author.

J. George Stewart, the architect of the Capitol, wanted to see the eastern front rebuilt in marble. The old facade was cracking, it didn't line up with the Senate and House extensions that went onto the building in the 1850s, and he thought marble was just nicer.

Steward, a former one term congressman from Delaware, had never actually received any architectural training, and he faced a huge uphill challenge convincing people this was a good idea. A bitter war played out in Washington's editorial pages over the following months between the sandstone purists and the marble backers.

Powerful Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn liked the idea. But the American Institute of Architects blasted the proposal, calling it a "desecration" and labeling Rayburn as a "historic barbarian."

Rayburn pushed the plans forward in any case.

On December 13, 1958 the Daytona Beach Morning Journal wrote that "Workmen are saving everything, even the debris and rubble, and storing it safely on the Capitol grounds".

The old Aquia Creek sandstone facade was taken apart piece by piece by the John McBeath & Sons company. They finished the job in seven months, dutifully cataloging each stone and stacking them by the House of Representatives.

In their place went Special Georgia White marble, provided by the Georgia Marble Company for $2.8 million. The new front was 33 feet farther than the original, and lined up with the House and Senate stairways.


Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

What to do with the stones?

According to the Washington Post, when the project started nobody had thought through what to do with the stones. "Eventual disposition of the dismantled portions is to be determined [at a later date] by the Commission for Extension of the Capitol, headed by House Speaker Sam Rayburn."

Steward and Rayburn consulted with the advisory architects who suggested donating the stones to the Smithsonian, or reconstructing them into a new museum. However, Steward (who was being crucified in the press during all of this) had spent the last year trying to convince everyone about all the ways in which sandstone was deficient.

Highlight the stones in a new museum? No way! He wanted the blocks out of sight and out of mind.

The stones first traveled to the Capitol Powerplant, where they sat until 1975 when facilities there expanded. That's when they made their way to a National Park Service facility deep inside Rock Creek Park.

At the time, they were under the custody of the now-defunct Commission on the Extension of the United States Capitol. According to a 1982 Washington Post article, possession of the stones then passed to the House and Senate office building commissions.

Present day

The stones have been sitting in Rock Creek Park for the last 40 years, slowly gathering moss and sinking into the ground.

The United States Capitol Historical Society has been cutting up a small number of the stones and selling them as bookends (with permission from the Speaker of the House). The stones are also occasionally used for small restoration jobs in the Capitol and White House.

The 22 corinthian columns from the old east front were rescued from obscurity in 1984 by DC local Ethel Garrett, who successfully lobbied to have them moved to a more fitting location. Today, they stand sentry over a reflecting pool and 20 acres of meadow at the National Arboretum.


Photo by Fred Dunn on Flickr.

Cross-posted from ArchitectoftheCapital.org. If you enjoyed reading about the capitol stones you might also like the old Civil War fort hidden in Rock Creek Park.

History


Half a century before Metro, the Washington Post proposed building a downtown subway

Talk of a subway in DC first appeared in the Washington Post way back in 1909. At the time, the idea was just to run a small loop between the Capitol building and the White House.


Image from the Washington Post.

An intriguing but strange Washington Post article, published in 1909, pushed for the subway. There's no author listed and it doesn't say it's from the editorial board, so it's unclear exactly who at the Post was behind the effort.

The proposed subway loop would have run through the basements of government buildings in the heart of downtown. The proposed line also included stations under the Corcoran, Center Market, and four of the city's leading hotels.


Stops along the proposed subway line. Map by the author. Click for an interactive version.

Unlike our modern Metrorail system, the 1909 proposal notably did not have any stations in suburban residential areas for commuters. This is partially because a large suburban population didn't exist yet, and partially because the development that did exist was supported by a robust streetcar network.

The primary purpose of the subway would have been to serve government employees, but as the Post suggested, "The common people might well be permitted to derive some of the advantages and benefits of its use, when those wearing togas and solemn visages do not tax the system to its utmost capacity."

Inspiration for the subway came from the tunnel system built in March of the same year that connected the Russell Senate Office Building with the Capitol. The tunnel boasted a primitive people-mover that ran on tracks set into the floor.


Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

The Washington Post saw the Russell subway as a nucleus that could be expanded "from the Senate Office Building to the Union Station, thence to Treasury corner, the White House, the State, War and Navy Building."

Unlike WMATA's massive standalone stations, the Russell subway was "a narrow gauge affair" that ran back and forth from one building to another. The "stations" were really just basement rooms. The Post didn't provide any clarification on whether these basement stations were supposed to be the model for the larger subway system.

It is incredible to imagine what a subway system that ran through tunnels linking the White House, Capitol, hotels, and markets, with stops in Congressional building basements, would look like today.

The mass transit system pitched by the Washington Post was never built. The District already had reliable streetcar service, and construction of the impractical subway would have been very costly.

But the Post's ideas, which predated WMATA by half a century, was referenced in the 1960's as evidence of the need for more mass transit in Washington.

An expanded version of this post appears on the Architect of the Capital blog.

Roads


67 Congress members to feds: Measure the movement of people, not cars

The federal government hands states about $40 billion a year for transportation, money they can basically spend however they want. The result in many places is a lot of expensive, traffic-inducing highways that get clogged with cars soon after they're finished. Can measuring the effect of all this spending lead to better decisions?

US DOT is developing a metric to assess how well states address congestion. This is a minefield—if the new congestion rule only measures the movement of cars, it's going to entrench 60 years of failed transportation policy. Unfortunately, the first draft of the DOT rule left a lot to be desired.

Reformers have been pushing the agency to revise the rule so it takes a broader, multi-modal view of congestion. Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America reports 19 senators and 48 US representatives have written a letter to US DOT [PDF] demanding a healthier approach.

The Congress members write:

If we focus, as this proposed rule does, on keeping traffic moving at high speeds at all times of day on all types of roads and streets, then the result is easy to predict: states and MPOs will prioritize investments to increase average speeds for cars, at the expense of goals to provide safe, reliable, environmentally sensitive, multi-modal transportation options for all users of the transportation system, despite those goals being stated in federal statute. This singular focus on moving vehicles undermines the progress this Administration has made on multi-modal planning and investments through the TIGER program. Encouraging faster speeds on roadways undermines the safety of roads for all users, as well as the economic vitality of our communities.

The excessive congestion performance measure should be amended to assess people hours of delay and not just vehicles. This change is critical to account for the many non-single occupancy vehicle users, including transit bus riders and bicyclists and pedestrians traveling along the corridor, which provide critical congestion relief and could be undercounted or even penalized under this measure.

The letter also insists that U.S. DOT require state and regional transportation agencies to assess the impact of projects on greenhouse gas emissions.

US DOT is currently accepting comments about the rule change. You can weigh in and help promote a better policy.

Crossposted from Streetsblog.

History


DC Home Rule almost had... the FBI picking the police chief

What if, instead of DC's mayor picking Chief Cathy Lanier to run the city's police department, we had a chief chosen by the FBI, or the Secret Service? Some members of Congress wanted it to be that way when they gave DC home rule in 1973.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Before the Home Rule Act, Congress made all of DC's laws, and the executive branch ultimately reported to the President of the United States, as if DC were another agency of the federal government (basically, it was). But in 1973, Congress set up our current system of an elected mayor and council. Only they balked at giving DC full autonomy.

Some worried that giving up the police power to local officials would let them blockade the Capitol and force Congress to submit to the will of local residents. Others, amazingly, feared that a popularly elected leader representing the people of DC might not actually be in favor of law and order.

This goes back to 1783

Control of the police is, in fact, the reason there is a District of Columbia in the first place. In the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, 400 soldiers of the Continental Army briefly besieged the delegates of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, demanding payment for services during the Revolutionary War.

The Pennsylvania Executive Council, then the executive branch of the Pennsylvania state government, refused to guarantee it would protect the Congress from the protest, so the delegates moved the capital out of Philadelphia. That experience was the reason the Constitution's authors provided for a federal district, to which the federal capital eventually moved in 1800.

Members worry the Mayor would not want order

In 1973, memories of the 1968 riots were still very fresh. The President had used the National Guard to keep peace, and members of Congress worried that without federal control, this might not happen. But why? At least a few members actually worried that the Mayor would actually be unwilling to act.

Congressman Delbert "Del" Latta (R-OH) said,

Another matter that concerns me about this bill is the matter of who is going to take over this police force in times of revolt or revolution or riot, whatever you have, like we had in the city a couple of years ago.

If we have an elected Mayor who is going to be looking to his constituency in the District of Columbia to reelect him the next election, is he going to respond when the city is burning such as we saw from the Capitol steps a few years ago, as readily as if the President of the United States had the authority right now to sign an order and take over the police department of the city? (p.1764)

Rep. Charles "Charlie" Rangel (D-NY, and still in Congress today) said, "One ... rationale, commonly used by persons against home rule is that home rule will result in a drastic increase in the crime rate for the District. ... Opponents of self-determination for the District are implying that the local government of the city, specifically the Mayor and City Council, would act in bad faith. (1723-1724)

Then-Police Chief Jerry Wilson wrote a letter to Congress addressing some of the concerns:

I recognize, as I am sure you do also, that some of the concerns over home rule for the District of Columbia directly relate to fear that local control of the police may result in misuse or nonuse of the police power in a manner adverse to the interests of the city, either as a local community or as the national capital. ...

Personally, I feel that apprehension over local control of police power in the District is misplaced. My own sense of this community is the overwhelming majority are responsible citizens who want effective law enforcement just as much as residents do in any other city. If the city of Washington is to be treated substantially as a local community, albeit a special one, rather than a federal enclave, then there is no reason to deprive local citizens of control over that fundamental local service, the police force. (1699)

The bill's authors and other members of Congress also noted that the President would have the authority to take over the police in a true emergency. Rep. Charles Diggs (D-MI) replied to critics, saying, "The committee felt that the President has inherent power to invoke whatever police power is required in case of an emergency. We are prepared to put this in more explicit language." (1764)

A provision specifically emphasizing this power was then part of the committee print of the bill which went to the House floor.

Amendments try to take the police chief appointment away from the Mayor

Some Congressmen were still not satisfied. Ancher Nelsen (R-MN) tried to introduce amendments that would have given other people besides the mayor the power to appoint the police chief.

His first proposal was to set up a Board of Police Commissioners with 3 members: the head of the US Secret Service, the head of the FBI, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia. They would submit 3 candidates for police chief to the President, who would pick among them. (2406)

Nelsen notes there was a Police Board in the 1860s, DC's previous episode of home rule, but it was abolished when Congress took control of the District back.

Rep. Brock Adams (D-WA) pointed out that there are lots of federal police forces to protect the federal interest, such as the Capitol Police, Park Police, Secret Service, FBI and more. This was not the case in 1783, when the Continental Congress did not even control the military during peacetime and depended entirely on state militias.

Stewart McKinney (R-CT) also disagreed with Nelsen, saying, "With regard to the problems we have been having in urban centers a police chief has to be one of the strongest and most compatible figures in the community's relationship." (2409)

This was also not something the White House had asked for, and the House defeated Nelsen's amendment, 132-275 with 27 not voting.

Nelson tried again, this time having the board of 3 commissioners nominate individuals to the Mayor. (2424)

Diggs said, "I would just like to understand from the distinguished ranking minority member of the committee [Nelsen] just what is his rationale behind wanting to have this kind of insulation with respect to the Police Commissioner or Chief of Police for this community." (2425) The House rejected this amendment on a voice vote, and that was the end of the matter. (2426)

However, Congress did limit the District's power over its criminal justice system in other ways, which we'll discuss in coming installments of this series.

All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.

This post first ran back in 2012. Since the history hasn't changed, we thought we'd share it with you again!

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC