During a 2012 public hearing on residency requirements for D.C. government workers, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), then chair of the D.C. Council’s government operations committee, bluntly asserted: “You want to run this city — you have to live here.” She’s not alone in that sentiment. D.C. officials have long contended that city residents should, as much as possible, constitute the D.C. government’s workforce.
They say that it makes sense to award jobs funded with D.C. tax dollars to qualified D.C. residents. This results in more tax revenue for the city and reduces the outflow of city salaries to the suburbs at the end of the workday. Hiring D.C. residents also helps take pressure off the D.C. budget because Congress prohibits the city from taxing the incomes of workers who live outside the nation’s capital.
But besides fuss and fume about D.C. dollars circulating beyond city limits, what have the elected leaders done about it?
The facts, please.
To pin down information on the employment of D.C. residents vs. nonresidents within the D.C. government, I filed a freedom of information request with the Department of Human Resources (DHR), the city’s personnel agency.
Results received from the DHR suggest that city leaders have been all talk and little action.
According to the DHR, nonresidents constitute a majority of the 35,302 employees in the various “career,” “educational,” “excepted,” “executive,” “legal” and “management supervisory” services of the D.C. government. Nonresidents hold that advantage despite a 10-point residency preference added to the employment scores of qualified District-resident applicants.
Non-District residents dominated the D.C. government: 16,103 Marylanders, 3,579 Virginians and 429 residents of other jurisdictions vs. 15,191 D.C. residents, according to DHR data.
Nonresidents also hold the majority of higher-paying jobs in the career service, based upon an examination of government pay-grade levels.
For example, at Grade 11, where salaries range from $55,195 to $71,161, D.C. residents hold only 1,100 positions, while more than 1,500 are filled by non-D.C. residents.
Likewise, at Grade 15, where salaries run from $98,697 to $139,288, non-D.C. residents hold 3,185 positions and D.C. residents 2,397.
Similarly lopsided breakdowns are reflected in Grades 8 (starting salary $41,648) through 18 (starting salary $119,650).
Arguably, D.C. government employment is a pathway to the middle class — in Maryland, Virginia and points beyond.
The DHR data also raise questions about the hiring system itself.
The excepted and executive services represent the top tiers of the D.C. government.
Most employees in the excepted service are on the mayor’s personal staff or serve in policy positions. These positions are filled noncompetitively.
Executive service appointees, on the other hand, are agency heads who are subordinate to the mayor and serve at her pleasure.
Excepted and executive service employees, however, have one thing in common: They are required, by city rules, to live in the District. They have 180 days from the date of their appointment to establish and provide proof of residency.
According to 2016 data, 53 excepted service employees and 20 executive service employees live in Maryland, while 31 excepted service and five executive service employees live in Virginia.
Responses for 2015 show similar results. The numbers cry out for explanation.
So, too, the stark underrepresentation of D.C. residents in the government’s broader workforce.
What accounts for non-District residents filling most of the city’s jobs? Are Marylanders, Virginians and other nonresidents getting hired because they are more qualified? Do D.C. residents lack the skills necessary to perform at higher levels of public service? How do those disparate resident vs. nonresident results reflect on us as a city — our school system, training and job readiness?
This week, I sought answers via email from Kevin Donahue, the deputy city administrator and deputy mayor who oversees the human resources department. Donahue replied: “The DC Department of Human Resources (DCHR) and other District agencies have actively engaged District residents to not only increase District residents as employees, but to provide training and education in resume building and interviewing to support the Mayor’s initiative in creating pathways to the middle class.”
He added: “Mayor Bowser launched the LEAP program in March 2015 to connect District residents to District government jobs. These are typically entry-level jobs, but there are some exceptions. For example, at [the Department of Public Works] more than 10 people are in training to be mechanics for District fleet vehicles.”
Donahue said that all of Bowser’s executive and excepted service appointees live in the city or are still within the 180-day transition period.
However, there are independent personnel authorities outside the mayor’s control, he noted, that also make excepted service appointments, and they can waive the residency requirement. Apparently those agencies are looking the other way.
So, too, it would seem, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who did not respond to my request for comment on this dismal situation.
So, in short, even if D.C. gained statehood tomorrow, nonresidents would still dominate this government of ours.
How humbling is that?
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