Despite tough questioning before a D.C. Council committee yesterday, M. Jerome Woods is expected to win confirmation as Mayor Marion Barry's choice to head the city's massive Department of Human Services, according to key council members.
Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), chairman of the five-member Human Services Committee, said after the confirmation hearing that Woods' responses were "in line with my concerns" and said he expected Woods -- a controversial nominee because of questions about his tenure as California's social services director -- to be confirmed by the full council without any major difficulty. The position pays $68,000 a year.
Two of the three other committee members attending yesterday's hearing, council members Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), said they will vote to confirm Woods. Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2), the other member present, said he "was not impressed one way or the other" and had not decided how he would vote.
During the hearing, several council members expressed concern about a California social services audit that found irregularities in the award of some noncompetitive contracts during the time Woods served as director of the California State Department of Social Services.
Woods, during nearly two hours of testimony, told the council committee that no one ever found him in violation of California personnel rules or filed any criminal charges against him. Woods also said that the audit, in reviewing 26 appointments who were hired on an emergency basis, found no instances in which the department did not follow state policies.
Woods, who was located by a Boston search firm, has been acting human services director since July. After reviewing department operations, which has a $860 million budget, Woods told council members he has concluded that the agency's key problem is its lack of resources to train its staff adequately. "The department has developed marvelous plans for providing services but has not been effective in transitioning from planning to implementation," Woods said. The "poor performance is reflected annually by comparison with other states. We are consistently in the bottom 10 percent in the maximization of available federal dollars, recoupment of medical overpayments, family support payments and infant mortality."
The majority of 12 witnesses testifying during the hearing said Woods had demonstrated an ability to grasp the problems facing the department and a willingness to implement changes. In addition, Crawford presented letters in support of Woods from California members of Congress, local ministers and members of social service groups.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who heads the council Committee on Government Operations, was Woods' toughest critic. Kane said she had problems with Woods' appointment because the allegations raised about the California social service administration were similar to the "allegations of cronyism, improper contracting practices and improper personnel practices" made against the District's Human Services Department. In response, Woods said under California's rules he could not hire anyone without the approval of three agencies.