D.C. storm warning means braving the financial headwinds
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is a perfect teaching tool for the D.C. government, particularly since the string of storms pounded the theme that all lives matter and that it is important to keep track of your assets. Mother Nature constantly reminds us that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.
And now, another warning: If Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma had struck the nation’s capital the way they struck Texas and Florida, the city would be unable to accurately calculate the damage to government assets.
That conclusion is based on a thorough audit of the Department of General Services (DGS) by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, which slams the Bowser administration on several fronts.
Similar to its better-known federal counterpart, the General Services Administration, the city’s 6-year-old DGS is responsible for managing and maintaining the city’s real property portfolio and the costs of D.C.-owned, -controlled and -leased real estate and spaces.
The most unsettling news is that DGS databases fell short of 1,540 D.C.-owned properties listed in the Office of Tax and Revenue records. In addition, DGS failed to list and identify some properties as jointly owned by the D.C. and federal governments.
Other substantial DGS problems included:
● failure to the facilities’ condition assessments, “which shall contain a proposed or actual annual budget for maintenance and deferred maintenance, and a detailed description and estimate of any needed repairs”;
● failure to describe each real property asset;
● failure to list properties’ addresses and square and lot number;
● and failure to cite the current and prospective use of properties.
The audit was conducted between June 2016 and July 2017, and a draft was sent to top city officials in July, complete with recommendations.
But while some of the recommendations were implemented, the final report released in August pointed out political and bureaucratic snafus. “DGS has yet to establish policies and procedures for maintaining its real property asset inventory, collecting the necessary data, and creating the necessary data fields in its database to record and update the inventory.”
It also laid out the pertinent dollarsand-cents angle: “A complete and accurate inventory is necessary for DGS to make decisions on whether to lease space from a third party or use Districtowned space to meet agency needs and track leases and tenants in Districtowned buildings. “For FY 2018 DGS has budgeted $177.7 million, which is an increase of $14.4 million over the FY 2017 budget, to rent non-District buildings. Having an accurate and complete inventory of District-owned buildings would better inform DGS officials and could substantially reduce the amount of money the District pays in rent, resulting in better use of the District’s real property.”
If D.C. officials do not know what the city has, they can’t honestly justify how money is spent or how building sites are chosen to taxpayers. And whether Mayor Bowser and City Administrator Rashad Young want to admit it, those are the chief reasons the mayor’s homeless relocation plan stumbled out of the gate a year ago.
A tell-tale sign is that Christopher Weaver, who ran DGS, quit shortly after the audit began a little over a year ago, but the internal problems at DGS have persisted.
So here’s the thing: Governors do the same thing when blizzards bear down as when hurricanes go wet and wild. They seek federal funds. So the District’s “governor” and “legislature” better get DGS’ house in order if they want Uncle Sam to lend a hand.
So here’s the rub: Officials could at least pretend to prove themselves fiscally prudent by doing two things.
1) Hold council oversight hearings as the books close on this fiscal year.
2) Don’t blow $667,000 on food and lodging for city workers during a snowstorm, as was done in 2016 and could not be recouped from federal funds. Spending $19,000-plus at McDonald’s? Really?
Preparedness doesn’t merely apply to city officials telling residents what to do ahead of a storm. It also applies to elected officials who brag about controlling taxpayer purse strings.
When the council returns to work next week, lawmakers must make sure DGS oversight is on the calendar.