At yesterday’s reportedly insane legislative session, while an income tax hike grabbed most of the headlines, Councilmember Vincent Orange introduced a slew of new bills, most having to do with how Councilmembers operate. The more substantive proposal, though, was this: Establishing a “Jobs Czar” who, according to a press release, would “declare war on unemployment.”
How would this warlike Czar cure the problem? A 21-page bill tries to give some answers: He or she would convene a “Future Jobs Preparedness Committee” composed of agency heads “equipped with the resources, power, and authority to act.” The Czar would develop a “comprehensive workforce development strategy,” put unemployed people in a database to match them up with jobs and training opportunities, and slap fees on developers who don’t hire as many D.C. residents as they’re supposed to.
The problem is…all of that’s already happening. The Department of Employment Services has been pushing its database of the jobless to employers, and putting up vastly improved numbers for local hiring on District-assisted construction projects. Mayor Vince Gray has in essence already appointed himself the city’s Jobs Czar, talking about the issue incessantly, trying new programs, and bringing incentives together in an easy-to-understand bundle. He’s even re-energized something very like the Committee Orange seeks to create: A Workforce Investment Council composed of representatives from labor, industry, and government that went defunct during the Fenty administration.
According to Orange, the First Source law for local hiring on District-funded projects is fine, when most everyone else has concluded that letting contractors simply bring over their employees from previous projects instead of hiring new District residents is a fundamental flaw. Also according to Orange, the District still needs another dude to ask for reports and nag employers, over and above Department of Employment Services director Lisa Mallory. “She doesn’t heave the authority to demand a meeting on a monthly basis or have a committee at her disposal to have this information,” he says. “If you were to call Ms. Mallory right now, I doubt that she could give you a profile of the unemployed.”
If that’s true, that’s something Mallory should fix. Not something that requires another generously-salaried bureaucrat to fix. Orange’s bill, which has garnered no cosponsors, is just an example of his ability to sense what people are talking about and insert himself into the discussion (those Walmart hearings? Yeah, not going to happen). Hey, give the guy credit for political astuteness, even if it’s a cynical conception of how D.C. voters operate.