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Chief Management Officer (CMO) Camille Cates Barnett is a firm believer in Total Quality Management (TQM), Performance Quality Management (PQM), Excellence in Government (EIG), and Accountability Training Methods (ATM). Just don’t spout any of those acronyms in weekly staff meetings, where Barnett forbids agency heads and her deputies to speak in bureaucratese.
Barnett bristles at being called CMO. Her deputy management officers must never be referred to as DMOs, and calling her assistant management officers AMOs risks a redressing in front of colleagues.
“She hates that, and she’ll stop the meeting to make you say the full title,” confirms a city official. “She doesn’t let anyone in her office use AMO, DMO, or CMO.”
That’s real reform in a town where the acronyms of government form a second language.
Barnett, however, was not hired by the D.C. financial control board last December to change the way bureaucrats speak. She was hired to change the way they work. After nearly eight months on the job, Barnett can cite only the tardy resumption of recycling scheduled for September as an accomplishment.
This week, Barnett is sending Congress her overdue plan for shaping up the city’s major agencies. Capitol Hill has been waiting since mid-May to get a look at the management reforms mandated last year when Congress created the post of CMO. (LL still depends on a daily diet of alphabet soup and will risk reprimand by Barnett to keep his acronyms.)
Control-boarders who have gotten a look at the CMO’s Performance Accountability Plan say Barnett should have concentrated less on changing the language of city bureaucrats and more on coming up with meaningful and long-lasting reforms for badly run agencies.
“No one is impressed,” observes one D.C. official.
Least of all Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s D.C. subcommittee. Taylor’s staff has been questioning why Barnett has hired so many DMOs, AMOs, and a whole crew of consultants with prior tenures as city managers or deputy city managers when urban management is supposed to be her own area of expertise. No one has yet come up with a suitable acronym for Barnett’s ever-expanding team of consultants, perhaps Totally Superfluous Management Officers (TSMOs).
Barnett still has her fans and protectors on the Senate side. Lauch Faircloth, the North Carolina senator who chairs the Senate D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, transferred more powers from Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. to Barnett earlier this month, during action on the District’s fiscal year 1999 budget.
If the CMO keeps spinning her wheels, however, Congress might consider sending some of her powers back up to the plush mayoral suite at One Judiciary Square.
To head off such a move, Barnett’s office last week compiled a list of 244 management reform projects currently under way, and she claims that many have already been completed. That claim sounds like Barry’s infamous remark during the January 1996 blizzard that all major city streets had been cleared. Both Barry and Barnett are familiar with the bureaucrat’s most sacred acronym: CYA.
LL is told that even Barnett’s bosses at the control board snickered in disbelief at her list.
After returning in late May from a two-week vacation in Italy, Barnett tried to put management reform on the fast track by firing W. David Watts as head of the critical Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Her choice to succeed Watts, Lloyd Jordan, will face a tough D.C. Council confirmation this week.
But Barnett has left Cell Bernardino in charge of the Department of Public Works (DPW), even though his agency remains largely dysfunctional.
Judging from the size of Barnett’s staff, she should be able to run all of the city’s creaky agencies on her own. The CMO has hired five deputy management officers and no fewer than 15 assistant management officers. Her total staffing level, 38 employees, matches the control board at its peak. At least a half-dozen control board staffers pushed out in the recent downsizing have found job security with the CMO.
Barnett’s performance invites comparisons to another failed member of the city’s appointocracy, former school chief Julius Becton Jr., who quit in full retreat this spring after only 18 months on the job. Like the retired Army general, Barnett has escaped oversight from the control board and the media during her critical first few months.
Also like Becton, she is surrounding herself with outsiders and staying aloof from the day-to-day operations of the sections of government under her watch, which include all of the city’s main agencies.
“She’s trying to stay on the policy level, just like Becton,” notes a city budget official. “And, most importantly, Becton did not take chances, and she is not taking chances.”
Barnett should follow the example of former Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams, the only member of the appointocracy credited with succeeding at his mission. Williams got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed the floor, whereas Barnett orders others to do the dirty work.
And the only time she’s willing to stand over her underlings to make sure her orders are carried out is when she hears that a DMO, AMO, or agency head has uttered a dreaded acronym.
Faced with a depleted war chest, declining poll numbers, and speculation that he may soon exit the mayor’s race, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil is reinventing his campaign.
Brazil these days seems to be everywhere throughout the city, everywhere, that is, except his home base on Capitol Hill, which he represented as the Ward 6 councilmember for six years before switching to an at-large seat last year.
“If you know Harold Brazil, you don’t like him,” admits one Brazil supporter. “If you know him real well, you probably hate him. But if you don’t know him at all, you’ll give him a chance.”
With that notion in mind, campaign aides are steering their candidate to areas of the city where he is a stranger, like neighborhoods along Georgia Avenue NW or bus stops in Anacostia and Hillcrest, in hopes that Brazil’s prowess on the campaign trail and the personal touch will mask his career defects.
“Harold is the best campaigner,” boasts campaign aide Marshall Brown. “He has out-campaigned these guys nine to one.”
But Brown, campaign manager Anita Bonds, and the rest of the crew on the 1998 mayoral campaign’s version of the Titanic have to steer around the icebergs: They have to maneuver past the risky candidates forums, where Brazil’s stumbling and stammering performances have supporters covering up their Brazil for Mayor buttons. Avoiding these forums is impossible. More than two dozen have been held to date, and nearly 30 more are scheduled before the Sept. 15 primaries.
Brazil is shunning the “meet-and-greets”, the lifeblood of retail politics in D.C., where candidates get to sit down in living rooms with 20 or so residents to make a lasting impression. Instead, he is hitting the street to shake hands, reaching out to the thousands of voters who don’t attend political events. He’s a regular at subway stops, a strategy that will no doubt boost his name recognition, in Arlington, Rockville, and Dunn Loring.
Brazil also appears ashamed of his council record, even though he’s the only councilmember in the race who has one. Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous boasts of the 40 hearings he held as chair of the council’s Education Committee, but he’s flustered when asked what those hearing produced.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans touts his chairmanship of the council’s Judiciary Committee, but his yearlong probe into police corruption and mismanagement has failed to capture headlines or shake up the department.
Brazil, on the other hand, spearheaded efforts to reform the city’s procurement regulations, its personnel rules, and its cumbersome business regulations and licensing process. But mention of those achievements at candidates forums usually sparks boos from activists who object to reform provisions weakening rent control and the city’s environmental protection laws.
So Brazil often ignores his own legislative record to tout his votes against prior budgets that pushed the city into debt and against President Clinton’s District bail-out package last year, which mandated tougher sentences for D.C. felons.
Brazil’s biggest handicap to date, however, is the candidacy of Williams, who has quickly emerged as the front-runner. Like Brazil, Williams casts himself as a reformer with a record. Campaign aides admit that many Brazil supporters quickly defected to Williams after he declared for the race in June. Brazil, along with Evans, has recently stepped up attacks on Williams in hopes of stemming the tide of defections.
Brazil has accused Williams of pandering to the teachers union via promises of pay hikes and other favors, all to secure the endorsement of a group he blames for the failure of the city’s public schools. Washington Teachers Union president Barbara Bullock last weekend signed on as a co-chair of the Williams campaign.
Michael Brown, son of the late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, has also secured a spot on the Williams campaign team after flirting for months with a bid for the city’s top elected office. Brown was being counseled and pushed by Barry, and the Brazil and Evans camps now are trying to decide whether the alliance with Williams amounts to a tacit signal of approval from Hizzoner. If so, it opens up another opportunity to attack Williams for catering to the Barry crowd.
“I think you’ll see a spirited contest between [Brazil and Williams] for much of the rest of the summer, because they appeal to some of the same voters,” predicts Brazil campaign pollster Ron Lester.
Chavous and Brazil are counting on Evans to slow Williams’ momentum by siphoning off white voters. And they still cling to the belief that Williams can’t appeal to more than a sliver of the black vote because he lacks charisma, has fired blacks from city government, and has cut programs aimed at the city’s poor.
That belief may be a stereotype left over from past Barry campaigns and could prove invalid this year.
While campaigning in voter-rich Ward 4 last weekend, Williams seemed shy and standoffish at times, and only slowly warmed up to the task of grabbing voters’ hands and asking for their support. But that hesitancy didn’t prevent black voters in the Safeway parking lot at Georgia Avenue and Piney Branch Road NW from rushing up to him.
Many said they regard his candidacy as “the last chance” for self-government in the District.
“We need to professionalize the management of this city. Things have to work,” says Ward 4 Williams supporter Larry Hemphill. Referring to the city’s past political leaders, Hemphill notes, “They paid their dues in the civil rights era. They deserved a chance. But they couldn’t get the job done.”
Speculation that Brazil may drop out is likely to soar again after the Aug. 10 filing of campaign finance reports, at which time Brazil is expected to be holding a paltry collection plate. But campaign aides insist the candidate will remain to the bitter end.
“If, indeed, he’s at 13 percent and the other candidates are in the low 20s, that’s not the time to get out,” says pollster Lester. “Everyone is still viable.”
That’s what has all the candidates so frightened, including Williams.
New Police Chief Charles Ramsey is finding out just how lonely it can be at the top. In his battle to move the “slug” commuter lines off 14th Street NW and improve the rush-hour traffic flow, Ramsey has stood alone against the slings and arrows of Northern Virginia congressmen. Although Barry and Barnett agree with Ramsey, they have stood by silently and let him endure his initial baptism under fire without backup.
In standing firm against barricades around the U.S. Capitol in the wake of last week’s shooting deaths of two police officers, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton proclaimed, “The Capitol should not be barricaded. This is where people come to petition their government.”
Unless, of course, they live in D.C. Then they encounter the barricade that Norton herself has erected. Hoisting the home rule banner, Norton recently barred opponents of the Mount Vernon Square convention center from testifying before a House panel.