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March 7, 2010

Earmarks, Contracts, and Grants

Dear Washingtonians:

There were important developments in three intertwined stories this week. Colbert King’s column, “DC Councilmembers Playing Politics with Earmarks,”, covers the DC Auditor’s report on DC council earmarks that I mentioned last Wednesday, and it gives some examples of earmark abuse that are contained in that report.

This morning’s headline story in the Washington Post, “Friends Share in DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s Good Fortune,” by Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman,, never uses the word “corruption,” but makes the case nevertheless. The Fenty administration operates on the basis of cronyism and favoritism; it distributes contracts and public funds on the basis of friendship. And it does it so blatantly that it offends the good government instincts of Marion Barry; here’s the quotation the authors elicit from Barry: “Former mayor Barry (D), now the Ward 8 council member, said Fenty’s friends have turned up in DC-sponsored projects often enough to raise questions. ‘There’s nobody in this government more Afro-centric than I am, but you can’t hide behind that,’ said Barry, a longtime advocate of minority set-asides. ‘The problem I have is the circle is so small. The same ones over and over again. It’s not fair.’”

And Peter Tucker, below, stays on Jack Evans’ case, in this instance on the proposed multimillion dollar giveaway to Northup Grumman. Politicians are eager to play developer and to move in the circles of the big boys who can spend millions on their projects. The problem is that politicians aren’t playing with their own money. They’re using our money, and they’re wasting our money by giving it to their friends, their political allies, and to corporations that don’t need the money in the first place. A government can choose to encourage business development by having a generally business-friendly environment, but treating all businesses the same doesn’t buy any friends for politicians. On the other hand, taxing and putting other burdens on most businesses in order to give large favors — earmarks, contracts, grants — to a favored few buys politicians a circle of contributors and supporters.

Gary Imhoff


Did Rhee’s Firing Squad Strike Again?
Candi Peterson,

Reports circulated Saturday on The Washington Teacher blog that the Rhee administration laid off more public school employees on March 5. Insiders report that possibly as many as thirty-nine employees were separated from DC’s central office, mostly from the Office of Special Education (OSE) and various other offices, with more layoffs scheduled to come. Given all the controversy over the first round of school system layoffs last November, it’s not hard to imagine why these recent terminations went unreported. An anonymous source who referred to themselves as DCPS is underhanded wrote, “I was browsing the web trying to see if the news of the DCPS central office ‘layoffs’ that occurred yesterday (Friday) was on any one’s radar. To my surprise it wasn’t. I came across your blog and I decided to send you an E-mail. I currently work for DCPS so I must remain anonymous. On Friday, March 5, over twenty DCPS central office employee’s were ‘separated’ from their positions. The head honchos tried to convince the staff this was part of the ‘budget reduction plan.’ I have to disagree; this was a blatant office-wide termination of folks that didn’t get along with their direct supervisors. The stage for this was set a long time ago. Every one that was let go was African-American and very out spoken. They were revealing a lot of under-handed activity that was going on in the central office and the ‘big wigs’ didn’t like this. It makes me sick to my stomach to see what’s going on in our central office. All of the staff (including me) are walking on egg shells waiting until our name is put on the layoff list. A lot of the things going on at DCPS need to be exposed. That mess that was pulled yesterday (Friday) needs to be investigated . . . something just wasn’t right about the situation. They also made it known that this is not the end of the ‘layoffs.’

A second informant vouched for the validity of this story. In an E-mail, this anonymous source reported “I too have been searching the Internet for news on March 5th’s central office layoffs, and have been disappointed. I can’t give a lot of detail because they’d know who I was if I did; they read these blogs and discuss them derisively. I can confirm that there were over twenty separations from employment on Friday. I agree with your first source that there are more to come. I was given information from two director-level persons. Neither person could give a reason for this action other than vague ‘recession’ mumblings. Both stated that ‘no one is safe’ during these times, so I believe that they already have a list of persons that are being laid off next but didn’t want to do them all at once. I know that not all of the persons laid off on Friday are African-American, but I believe that most were outspoken in their concern for DCPS practices.”

Will Rhee’s firing squad strike again? Only time will tell.


Is it Time to Burn the Boats?
Phil Shapiro,

Within the next two to three years (or sooner), many major newspapers in the United State — including the Washington Post — will likely stop printing. Sadly, many of these companies will not be doing so on their own terms; they will be forced into that action.

Marc Andreessen, who designed the first widely used web browser, Netscape, thinks that newspapers ought to face this eventuality head on and shut down their print operations on their own terms. He explains this point of view in the phrase, “burn the boats,” alluding to explorer Cortes’ command to burn the boats when he landed in Mexico, forcing his sailors to move into the unknown rather than contemplate returning to the Old World. Maybe there’s some wisdom in this thinking. When you act on your own terms you have a greater chance of survival. When you’re betwixt and between, you can’t focus on moving in any direction. See

Given the vital role of new organizations in the operations of our democracy, is there not a role for foundations to involve themselves in making this transition as non-disruptive as possible? Printing plants will need to be repurposed, distribution chain workers will need to retrained, etc. This is no small transition, but it must progress smoothly.


Podcast Interview with DC author Dan Pink
Phil Shapiro,

Author of the book A Whole New Mind and the new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. See (and hear)

I find Pink to be an interesting, humble, and thoughtful thinker. I’d characterize him as a pragmatic theorist. Scroll down this web page to see Dan Pink speaking at the TED conference in 2009. Twitter summary of the book Drive: “Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”


Jack Evans’ “Particularly Loony” Idea: $25 Million for Northrup Grumman
Peter Tucker,

On the same day the DC council declared that unemployment was at crisis levels, having surpassed 12 percent citywide and 28 percent in Ward 8, the powerful chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee, Councilmember Jack Evans, announced his plan to provide Northrup Grumman with $25 million in tax abatements and grants in an effort to lure the defense contractor to the District. If $25 million is not enough for the Fortune 100 company, which posted $1.7 billion in profit in 2009, Mr. Evans is prepared to go higher: “Whatever someone else puts down we’re going to match it and we’re going to beat it,” said Evans.

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein does not see the wisdom in using tax dollars to go after Northrup Grumman. In a March 3 article, “A wrongheaded race for Northrup Grumman’s headquarters,” Mr. Pearlstein writes, “Virtually every credible study finds that using taxpayer subsidies to chase after corporate locations rarely pays off. These testosterone-filled contests are never really about money so much as pride and ego and political bragging rights. By the time the competition ends, the benefits from winning have been pretty much bargained away and everyone comes off looking rather silly” (

Unfortunately, very few will have the opportunity to raise their concerns over the Northrup Grumman giveaway before Mr. Evans’ Finance and Revenue Committee. While Council rules require a hearing to have 15 days notice, Mr. Evans is holding the Northrup Grumman hearing on Monday, March 8 at 10:00 a.m., despite having published notice for the hearing on March 2, just six days prior. Mr. Evans’ fast-and-loose approach to spending huge sums of precious tax dollars is nothing new. However, with massive budget cuts looming — likely disproportionately impacting the city’s most vulnerable — Mr. Evans’ reckless fiscal management can no longer be tolerated.

Mr. Pearlstein perfectly summed up the effort to lure Northrup Grumman to DC: “For the District, which is looking at a $200 million budget shortfall next year, getting into this bidding war is particularly loony.”



Dupont Circle Events, March 8
Robin Diener,

Monday, March 8, 6:30 p.m., Charles Sumner School, 1201 17th Street, NW (at the corner of 17th and M Streets, NW). Longtime Washington Post writer and columnist Abigail Trafford opens the Dupont Circle Village’s spring speakers series, marking the first anniversary of its membership launch. Trafford, best known for her “My Time” book and columns in the Post, is a fun speaker, and her topic should interest everyone. The event is open to all, and particularly those who are curious about the village.

Monday March 8, 7:30 p.m., St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 1772 Church Street, NW (at the corner of Church and 18th Streets). DCCA March 2010 Membership Meeting. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans will begin the evening with a brief update and take questions. Send questions in advance to Featured speaker Colleen Hawkinson of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) will provide an overview of the agency’s direction as well as information on major current and upcoming initiatives, including streetcars, K Street CenterWay, expansion of the bike sharing program, and the Circulator.

Tuesday, March 9, 4:00-7:00 p.m., DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street, NW. On the Sidewalk at the J Spring Used Book Sale. Looking for inexpensive books? Browse through terrific reads, classics, and bestsellers. Used books in good condition at prices as low as $1! Elbow-deep in spring cleaning? The J is accepting donations of books in good condition on Sunday, March 7, and Monday, March 8. Donations can be dropped off in bags or boxes with the front desk or put in the library. Please mark them clearly as donations.


Environmental Health Group (EHG) Events, March 9
Allen Hengst,

World War I munitions, bottles filled with chemical warfare agents, and contaminated soil have been found in and around the Spring Valley neighborhood of northwest DC. The Environmental Health Group (EHG) seeks to raise awareness of the issues and encourage a thorough investigation and cleanup. Every Saturday at 1:00 p.m., please join the Environmental Health Group for an informal discussion about Spring Valley issues. In the cafe at the Tenleytown Whole Foods Market, 4530 40th Street, NW (one block north of Tenley Circle). For more information, visit the EHG on Facebook at:

Tuesday, March 9, 7:00 p.m.: Monthly meeting of the Spring Valley Restoration Advisory Board with the US Army Corps of Engineers. USACE is in the process of investigating and cleaning up contamination in Spring Valley resulting from operations during the World War I era. The Corps will outline its plan to destroy chemical weapons on the Federal Property (behind Sibley Hospital) within approximately six weeks. At Saint David’s Church basement, 5150 Macomb Street, NW (one block north of MacArthur Boulevard),


National Building Museum Events, March 11
Johanna Weber,

March 11, 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m., Building in the 21st Century: Solar Decathlon Houses Shine Light on Architecture, Energy Efficiency, and Smart Technologies. Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon, reviews the results and lessons learned from the fourth US Department of Energy Solar Decathalon and shows plans for future events. Free. Registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

March 11, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m., For the Greener Good: Greening the Supply Chain. How can you tell if a piece of lumber, a CFL light bulb, or bamboo flooring is really “green”? Learn from a panel of experts about the greening of the supply chain. $12 members, free students, $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

March 11, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., DC Environmental Film Festival. Moving Midway (USA, 2008, 98 minutes.) In 2004, New York film critic Godfrey Cheshire returned home to North Carolina to find that his cousin planned to move Midway Plantation, the family’s ancestral home. Moving Midway recounts this journey. A discussion with the director/filmmaker follows the film. Presented as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. For more information visit $10 members, $10 students, $12 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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