A report by the Greater Washington Research Center suggests that the politics and the politicians of metropolitan Washington are turning inward and therefore are less able to cope with the issues of the 1980s. To cure this, the report argues, the Council of Governments should be made stronger and local officials should yield some of their authority -- and responsibility -- to a higher regional body.
I disagree. I suspect strongly that most of my elected colleagues and the citizens also disagree. The new report may add to the strength of their beliefs. It concludes that the history of the region over the past two decades and today's problems underline the need for new and stronger regional authority. Instead, history and the issues are saying exactly the opposite.
By working together through the Council of Governments over the past 23 years, we have clearly proven both our willingness and our ability to deal with immediate and long-range problems. For example, on problems of an immediate nature:
When the long gas lines popped up last summer, our local officials worked through COG, joined by Mayor Marion Barry and Governors John Dalton and Harry Hughes, and produced the odd/even plan and other emergency actions that helped eliminate the lines.
"Mutual aid agreements" were worked out through COG during the 1960s and 1970s so that police and fire departments can now cross city, county and even state lines to aid each other in large-scale emergencies.
Express-bus experiments using reserved lanes and shopping center parking lots to help both city residents and suburbanites reach jobs more easily were developed and conducted through COG. Many of the routes and parking arrangements have now been made permanent.
Commuter Club, the computerized regional ride-sharing program of car pools and van pools, is a service of COG, established during the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, in cooperation with the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Last year, 24,000 workers used this service.
On more complicated, long-range problems:
More than $240 million in federal housing funds has been generated through COG to help meet the housing needs of our area's cities and counties. This is a result of the "Fair Share" formula for distributing these funds, which our local officials worked out among themselves through COG.
The strictest and most promising plan ever produced to clean up our air was completed through COG a year ago.
The strongest plan ever proposed to clean up our water was completed through COG during the same period.
Innovative attempts to reduce unemployment and stimulate new jobs through the region's first regionally coordinated economic development program are under way in COG.
Our local officials have not confined their areawide cooperation to regional projects and programs. Again, by working together through COG, they have faced controversial, complex and emotional issues squarely. Using COG as their metropolitan arena, they have debated and then acted on such issues as how to pay for finishing Metro and whether to complete I66, as well as the issues of housing, sludge disposal and jet noise from National Airport.
These accomplishments have come from the region's local elected officials of the past 23 years, working together on a cooperative basis through COG to improve their own communities in particular and our metropolitan community in general. No new layer of government was necessary. No "super government" was established. No traditionally local authority was surrendered.
Would a regional body armed with taxing powers -- another layer of government on top of our governments -- be a better approach? Is it even desirable? There is ample evidence, some it presented here, that cooperation can and does work if you want it to. What evidence is there to suggest that a statutory regional authority would be any better, or even as good?
We should not waste our precious time and energies fighting a pitched battle for a cause that is unaccompanied by any groundswell of support. Instead, let us continue to work effectively and on a cooperative basis, remembering that this approach was right for the '50s, the '60s and the '70s -- and it is right for the '80s.