A Message from the Chief Equity Officer
In February 2021, Mayor Muriel Bowser established the Mayor’s Office of Racial Equity (ORE) with the charge of developing an infrastructure to evaluate policy decisions and District programs through a racial equity lens. The ORE also carries forward the implementation of the Racial Equity Achieves Results “REACH” Act (D.C. Law 23-181). The Act includes several provisions designed to operationalize racial equity across government, such as racial equity training for District employees and the development of Racial Equity Action Plans. A key component of a racial equity framework is a vision statement which outlines an agency’s commitments to advancing racial equity and an acknowledgement that government must work to repair harm and eliminate structures that reinforce differential experiences and outcomes by race.
As Mayor Bowser stated, “we have a unique opportunity to double down on our efforts to put racial equity at the forefront and revitalize systems to ensure a more inclusive and prosperous future for all Washingtonians.” I am encouraged by the work that the Department of Public Works (DPW) has begun to operationalize racial equity throughout the agency, specifically as it relates to human resources, environmental stewardship, accessibility, safety, and beautification of the District.
The vision of ORE builds upon the Mayor’s priorities and existing agency strategies and goals. Racial equity, nevertheless, requires prioritizing the voices and needs of those most affected by racial inequities. So, our goal is to foster a collective vision, one that includes:
Acknowledging the cumulative and ongoing impact of historical trauma on communities of color, especially Black people living in the District;
- Shifting our individual and collective understanding of the impact of racism and what anti-racism and racial equity are and mean;
- Acknowledging the intersections of race and other social categories or experiences;
- Analyzing which communities will benefit and which communities will be harmed by policy decisions, according to race; and
- Targeting solutions and distribution of resources to residents that have experienced systemic and institutional oppression.
ORE aims to support agencies with the tools to become change agents in racial equity. However, it will take a whole-of-government approach to effectively move the needle. We are excited to have DPW as a partner in this work as we work to achieve our vision for racial equity – when one’s race will no longer predict opportunities, outcomes, or the distribution of resources for residents.
Amber A. Hewitt, Ph.D.
Chief Equity Officer, District of Columbia Government
Department of Public Works Equity Statement
The Department of Public Works (DPW) acknowledges that various inequities, including racial inequities, exist in certain laws and policy in Washington, DC. These inequities stem from the legacies of discrimination, inequalities in criminal justice, disfranchisement, displacement, economic disparities, educational and financial disparities, redlining, segregation and slavery. Communities have been marginalized through historical and systemic inequities, thereby preventing these communities from having full access to opportunities, housing and services across the District, particularly those communities east of the Anacostia River. The District’s most historically marginalized and economically vulnerable residents, often people of color, those in poverty, and incarcerated and returning citizens, too often experience the negative effects of lack of access to resources, including jobs and healthcare, and its accompanying effects.
DPW is committed to an organizational structure that elevates and advances diversity, equity and inclusion. DPW also believes that community engagement and interaction with residents across the city improves public awareness and education, while further improving services. We provide a number of services to District residents in a variety of areas, including solid waste and recycling collection, parking enforcement, snow and leaf removal, and waste diversion, among other critical services. DPW strives to provide these services to all District residents and neighborhoods, including those traditionally historically marginalized, in a fair and equitable manner.
Equity in Hiring and Retention
It is well documented that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system and are incarcerated at a higher rate than other individuals. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Justice, 60% of all individuals remain unemployed one year after they are released from incarceration. DPW recognizes that as an employer, we can make a significant impact by building on the strengths and assets of returning citizens. Unemployed returning citizens are at a greater risk of reoffending compared to employed ex-offenders. Recidivism is higher for these individuals primarily because they have difficulty finding a job, and are left without health care and other benefits. Disparities among race and gender for unemployed formerly incarcerated individuals who are available to work but remain unable to find secure jobs based on their past incarcerations leads to a higher recidivism rate.
DPW is honoring its commitment to District residents by hiring returning citizens to good paying jobs with benefits and training in positions such as operating heavy-duty machinery. Additionally, as a second-chance employer of hard to employ individuals, DPW participates in several programs, including collaborative programs with other District agencies, to help those in the most economically vulnerable areas of the District, and where the most gun violence is occurring, by hiring these citizens into jobs. DPW has hired a number of individuals from these programs. We also participate in the Project Empowerment program with the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and an apprenticeship program with DOES for mechanics at DPW’s Fleet Management Administration (FMA).
DPW will continue to honor its commitment to equity within the agency, through hiring practices that employ individuals from the most historically marginalized and economically vulnerable parts of our community. Our agency allows those who would not otherwise have a chance at government service to help influence operations, develop training and advance into management. DPW will always work to recruit, hire, maintain, retain and train a diverse workforce reflecting equity and inclusion – one that reflects the mission, values and vision of the agency and the rich diversity of the residents of the District.
Environmental Justice and Responsibility for Environmental Stewardship
DPW honors its commitment to environmental justice and responsibility for environmental stewardship by acknowledging, addressing and ameliorating environmental inequities across the District. We understand that the history of environmental injustices across our city and our nation disproportionately harmed people of color and people living on low incomes. DPW remains dedicated to ensuring that all of our services are delivered in an equitable manner, irrespective of which neighborhood one lives in. We are one city, not a divided one. Our motto is “A clean DC is a healthy DC.”
DPW plays a significant and important role in environmental responsibility across all eight wards of the city. In addition to the approximately 8,000 public litter cans that DPW collects from all wards, DPW also regularly collects trash and recycling from homes and many residential buildings in every part of the city. In addition, we educate the public and schools on the importance of recycling, and what is and is not recyclable. By lending tool kits such as rakes, brooms, shovels, and trash bags, DPW helps community groups that organize neighborhood clean-up projects through the Helping Hand Program. Additionally, DPW was the first government agency in the surrounding jurisdictions to offer free personal document shredding for its residents.
DPW also regularly interacts with local residents and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) regarding issues affecting their communities. In all of these ways, our agency attempts to ensure that every resident has an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and community, in order to further achieve our goals of environmental justice and equity.
Recycling food and other organic waste into compost provides a range of environmental benefits, including improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and recycling nutrients. DPW has made it possible for District residents to drop off food waste to be composted at designated Farmers’ Markets. Free composting is also available for use in neighborhood beautification
The safe disposal of hazardous household waste (HHW) and unwanted electronic equipment such as computers, televisions, VCRs/DVRs, stereos and fax machines (E-cycling) helps to prevent the release of dangerous, toxic substances into the environment and prevents harm to the public as well as DPW workers. Accordingly, DPW has a facility in which District residents can drop off HHW so that it can be properly and safely disposed of.
Our FMA supports municipal operations by procuring, fueling and maintaining thousands of District government vehicles, from sedans to heavy equipment. FMA is responsible for purchasing environmentally friendly, alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) for the city. DPW has transitioned many vehicles from regular diesel or gasoline to 100% biodiesel. The District’s fleet also includes a combination of hybrid electric and all-electric vehicles. Our goal is to have 50% light- and medium-duty vehicles transitioned to hybrid or all electric by 2029, depending on whether manufacturing can keep up with our demand. In addition, DPW has also installed numerous charging stations, which provides added incentive to other District agencies to use AFVs.
Racial Equity and the Beautification of the District
By recognizing the importance of our great city and its significance as a national landmark, DPW is and will continue to be a great partner in ensuring that our city is clean and beautiful, all of which is significant in attracting national and international attention. Knowing the importance that tourism contributes to our city and the revenue that it generates, we will continue to play an integral part in attracting tourists to the District. With this increased revenue comes the ability to provide increased services to all sections of our city, including those which may be more economically vulnerable.
With respect to what has become a leading tourist destination in our city, Black Lives Matter (BLM) Plaza, DPW assisted in clearing the way for the painting of the Black Lives Matter mural on Freedom Plaza. As part of the effort to continue this beloved landmark, DPW has been instrumental in repainting the mural several times since the initial painting. We have also played a significant role in preparation for major events such as the Presidential Inaugurations, July 4th celebrations and other large events. DPW’s night operations service the city’s litter cans to keep overflow at a minimum, and mechanical street sweepers clean the city’s gateways and highways, and clear roads of accident debris and trash. DPW has also participated in and taken the initiative on various special projects, including in January 2018, when the federal government temporarily shut down and DPW collected trash from national parks and landmarks frequented by tourists that would normally be managed by the National Park Service. DPW cleaned litter from parks and added over 600 federal cans to its normal routes. This also helps in the beautification of the District and increased tourist revenue, which is a boon for all residents in the District, including those who may live in more economically vulnerable communities.
In addition, DPW is responsible for graffiti removal and cleaning litter from our streets and sidewalks. Litter and graffiti are public nuisances and cost the District and its residents more than just money. Graffiti tarnishes the appearance of our neighborhoods. Gang-related graffiti can threaten violence or identify turf boundaries. Litter diminishes the beauty of the nation’s capital, and piles of litter attract rats and other pests. DPW makes an effort to prioritize neighborhoods in the District with high levels of graffiti and violence, further resulting in greater racial equity.
In helping to make our city a better place for those who live and visit, in cooperation with the DC Commission on the Arts, DPW funds MuralsDC, a graffiti abatement initiative. The program provides local artists a responsible and legal means to exercise their artistic skill in a way that legitimizes graffiti as an art form, and promotes community awareness and respect for public and private property. DPW has funded and overseen the painting of over a hundred murals located in all eight wards of the District. Each of the murals reflects the character, culture and history of the neighborhoods in which the mural is located. This thoughtful and strategic placement of murals in various sections of the city also serves to relieve the burden of graffiti in more economically vulnerable areas and those areas which already contain an abundance of graffiti.
Accessibility and Safety
DPW's Parking Enforcement Management Administration (PEMA) enforces the District’s on-street parking laws, which ensures the enforcement of designated parking spaces for our residents and individuals with disabilities. In addition to routine enforcement, PEMA is responsible for removing abandoned and dangerous vehicles from public and private property. PEMA tows vehicles that pose a danger to the public or impede the flow of traffic – our inspectors travel throughout the District looking for abandoned and dangerous vehicles to investigate, ticket and potentially remove from the community. These vehicles can attract and harbor rats, vermin and other pests and, if significantly damaged with broken glass and metal parts, can create a dangerous condition for children and young adults. Residents can also request parking enforcement for violations such as parking in a residential parking space or a dedicated handicap space.
In addition, DPW, in conjunction with other District government agencies, clears streets of snow and ice to promote safe vehicular travel for our residents and visitors. To assist residents with medical conditions, DPW offers a Hardship Collection program, which allows us to go onto a resident’s property and collect their trash and recycling when they are not physically able to move the cans to the sidewalk or alley. This serves to greatly assist older BIPOC residents who have limited mobility. We also exempt senior citizens who are accepted into our Snow Shoveling Exemption Program so they do not face citations because they failed to remove snow from their sidewalk and walkways.
In sum, DPW will remain committed to making decisions in employment and our services that are guided by the principles of equity. We recognize that while much has been accomplished, many benchmarks and milestones remain, and DPW is dedicated to reaching and achieving the goal of greater equity for all at our agency and in the District.