If you run a District government agency, you have plans for next Thursday: You will be sitting in the John A. Wilson Building answering questions from D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large).
Every last one of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s city department heads has been ordered to appear before the Orange’s Small and Local Business Committee next Thursday to describe their departments’ compliance with city law mandating the use of small, local and minority-owned businesses.
The government-wide cattle call would be unprecedented had Orange not done the same during his previous stint on the council, representing Ward 5 from 1999 to 2007.
Those hearings, Orange said Thursday, were on the same issue: spending city money on local, small and “disadvantaged” businesses — now known as “certified business enterprises,” or CBEs. Orange claims that his oversight increased city spending on those businesses from $98 million per year to more than $500 million per year.
”The major objective is to make everyone aware the Small and Local Business Committee will be monitoring this once again,” Orange said.
But some in the Gray administration are questioning whether the hearing is a good use of the busy officials’ time and a good use of Orange’s oversight power, dismissing the hearing as a political stunt coming four months ahead of his contested primary election.
“We understand his interest in the issue,” said a senior Gray administration official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter. “However, it actually may not be the most effective way to measure CBE compliance.” The city’s Department of Small and Local Business Development, the official said, keeps statistics on city spending.
There is some irony here: Gray’s predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), clashed with the council repeatedly after his legislative aides refused to send agency heads to hearings where, the Fenty folks felt, their expertise wasn’t especially necessary and would interrupt their work.
That became a campaign talking point for Gray (D), who criticized Fenty in one document for “permitt[ing] government officials to refuse to appear and testify at Council hearings.” So now Gray has acquiesced to Orange and ordered about 75 top administration officials to appear at his hearing.
Doxie McCoy, a administration spokeswoman, confirmed Gray is “willing to comply” and “welcomes the monitoring of the District’s CBE compliance.”
According to a draft witness list, they include City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, and Schools Chancellor Kaya K. Henderson. Those three and more than 70 others are expected to show up in panels of four for half-hour sessions in front of Orange’s committee, where they will each be asked a short series on questions.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and last until at least 8 p.m.
Orange says there’s no substitute for personally putting the bosses on notice. “This is the responsibility of the agency head,” he said. “The precedent has been set. This worked before.”