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Fiscal Year 2020 Performance Oversight Hearing

Monday, March 15, 2021

Introduction

Good afternoon, Chairperson Cheh, members of the Council and staff. I am Christine Davis, Interim Director of the Department of Public Works (DPW). I am joined today by Camille Glover, Interim General Counsel, and Perry Fitzpatrick, Agency Fiscal Officer.

First, thank you to Mayor Bowser for her confidence in me to carry out her vision for DPW, as former Director Geldart was elevated to Acting Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. I also want to add my appreciation for the support of City Administrator Kevin Donahue and Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda Babers. 

In my previous capacity as General Counsel, I worked closely with you and the committee staff, and I look forward to continuing that relationship.

I have been DPW’s Interim Director for approximately five weeks, and I have hit the ground running – managing the District Snow Team through multiple snow deployments as well as leading the agency’s daily operations during this ongoing public health emergency. I’ve had a front row seat to witness the District Snow Team in action, and have seen their hard work, dedication, and commitment to providing top notch service to District residents.

For the rest of snow season, I hope the temperature stays above freezing and if there is any precipitation, it falls as rain.

 

DPW’s Response to COVID-19

My testimony describes DPW’s seismic shift from performing our scheduled services at the highest level to quickly incorporating multiple new responsibilities that continue to contribute to the overall health and safety of the District throughout the ongoing global health crisis. I will also discuss our response to the recent increase in First Amendment demonstrations, civil unrest, and the January 6th Capitol insurrection. 

Before I detail how DPW has adjusted operations during this past fiscal year, I would like to introduce a short video that illustrates how DPW was transformed from a solid waste, parking enforcement and fleet management agency into a warehouse builder and manager, supply distribution operation, personal protective equipment (PPE) quality control entity, and provider of other functions required to support the District’s response to COVID-19.

(Resume testimony after the video)

 

DPW’s Work in FY 2020

In FY 2020, DPW formed the Safety and Security Administration (SSA) to lead our response to emergency and safety incidents, special events, snow/ice storms, COVID-19 and other logistics issues, as well as facilities and property management functions. 

The SSA performs a coordinative function among DPW units as well as with other District government agencies when a citywide response is required. 

In short, SSA is the linchpin between DPW and the 97 District agencies, Business Improvement Districts or BIDs, and other entities that needed our assistance to effectively perform their functions.  

Also, in FY 2020, we expanded our scheduled services, to include:

  • Enlarging our portfolio by acquiring and distributing PPE to 97 District government agencies;
  • Providing logistics and transportation support for building the 443-bed alternative care facility within the Washington Convention Center to accommodate a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations;
  • Outfitting four warehouses to ensure adequate supplies of PPE and other materials are readily available;  
  • Securing medical equipment such as ventilators;
  • Making approximately 1,500 deliveries of PPE and other supplies to the other various DC government agencies and BIDs;
  • Introducing a structure for District government to acquire, distribute and track PPE and other materials necessary to protect employees’ health and safety so they could perform essential services;
  • Staffing the Health Emergency Coordinating Center throughout the COVID-19 crisis and the Metropolitan Police Department Emergency Operations Center on Independence Day; 
  • Setting up and providing staffing support at COVID-19 test sites; and
  • Providing logistical support to test sites located at eight fire stations.

 

Our most far-reaching effort was leading the multi-agency COVID-19 Customer Service Team to keep DC government employees safe at work, which also contributes to keeping their families safe at home. The mandate to create and implement PPE protocols for the 39,000 DC government employees, working in the other agencies, and assigned to more than 3,800 different position descriptions, required: 

  • Establishing PPE risk levels for each employee by working with each Agency Risk Manager to match each employee to their roles and responsibilities; 
  • Developing COVID-19 PPE specifications, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, to match each agency’s needs for purchasing new PPE. Where necessary the team worked on-site with agency personnel to ensure proper PPE accommodations were considered to meet any specific health care standard or specific PPE required to fulfill their agency mission;   
  • Partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and following the CDC guidelines, led to a raised awareness of precautions or warnings pertaining to protective equipment found to be counterfeit or questioned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. Through this effort, the team realized not only a financial accomplishment, but a risk reduction of tens of millions of dollars in future liability; 
  • Building out approximately 125,000 square feet of warehouse space to store and distribute PPE; 
  • Building out a regional N95 respirator decontamination site for Virginia, DC, and Maryland first responders and healthcare professionals; 
  • Developing the new inventory management system to maintain PPE par levels for each agency employee; and
  • Maintaining warehouse PPE levels for a continuity of operations plan to sustain 429 stock items and deliver more than 7.9 million PPE and safe workplace items to DC agencies. 

 

We also identified employees who could work from home, so we quickly transitioned from a non-telework agency to almost 100 percent telework for eligible employees.  Using the Office of the Chief Technology Officer’s (OCTO) best practices, the DPW IT Team:

  • Configured VPN access for 201 DPW employees to connect to DC’s internal network while working remotely;
  • Configured 48 WebEx accounts to securely host and facilitate virtual meetings with internal staff and external parties;
  • Conducted training on how to use Office365, including Microsoft Team for virtual meetings, OneDrive for cloud-based storage and collaboration; and
  • Conducted “Tech Checks” for each administration to ensure DC government-issued laptops, tablets, and mobile phones had the latest security patches. 

 

DPW’s Response to First Amendment Events, Civil Unrest, Quest for Statehood 

The District hosted multiple First Amendment and social justice events throughout the summer and fall, and DPW was involved in all of them. 

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Black Lives Matter mural, created in collaboration with DPW’s MuralsDC program. It attracts thousands of visitors from around the world for planned and unplanned gatherings. SSA provided coordination, planning and logistics support for the initial installation as well as its subsequent restorations, including its preparation for U.S. Representative John Lewis’s funeral processional. 

The mural site also has become a destination for spontaneous events, such as when the Biden-Harris team was declared President- and Vice President-elect.

Unfortunately, some visitors don’t use the public litter cans for their trash; therefore, DPW’s street cleaning division has added Black Lives Matter Plaza to its nightly cleaning schedule.

In anticipation of the U.S. House of Representatives’ historic vote on DC Statehood last June, Mayor Bowser asked MuralsDC to collaborate with muralists to conceive and paint 51 murals throughout the District. DPW assembled muralists, including two DPW employees, who brought the Mayor’s vision to life. Although we did not achieve statehood during the last Congress, we are hopeful for the passage of a statehood bill in the 117th Congress. 

Not all First Amendment demonstrations were held at Black Lives Matter Plaza, requiring DPW to work across the District. Between October 2020 and January 2021, DPW supported the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) by providing impact suppression vehicles, which are six- and 10-wheel dump trucks, tow trucks, and bike racks at 19 of these events held throughout the District. After each event, we cleaned the streets and surrounding areas so that normal life could quickly resume for residents. Moreover, one event transcended Constitutional bounds and devolved into criminality – the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th. 

 

On Top of All that, We Led the Public Works Subcommittee of the 2021 Presidential Inauguration Committee

The historic inauguration of President Joseph Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris involved every aspect of the department and we coordinated the roles of multiple DC government agencies. 

DPW responsibilities included providing:

  • Fuel and equipment as needed through the Fleet Management Administration;
  • Tow truck personnel and good communication/coordination with law enforcement agencies through our Parking Enforcement Management Administration (PEMA);
  • Quick execution of impact suppression vehicles to respond to resource shifting and change requests from MPD and the Secret Service through the Solid Waste Management Administration (SWMA);
  • Support to the Joint Information Center, in person, as well as content for social media and internal and external reports through the Communications Office; and
  • More than 50 types of equipment and more than 250 employees from across the department.

And We Delivered our Traditional Services Using New COVID-19 Protocols

As now-Acting Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart said at the beginning of the pandemic, “You can’t collect trash over the internet.” 

That meant our very first commitment was to provide the PPE, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant our frontline employees needed to safely continue to work. 

We installed hand washing stations at our sites and introduced social distancing measures, including marking the floors to create visual references. We also acquired portable disinfectant equipment that is used in DPW vehicles so that trash, recycling, and bulk can be collected, parking officers can reach their beats, and fleet mechanics can safely work on vehicles for DC government agencies.

 

When the public health emergency was declared, DPW adjusted its communication strategy to keep residents informed of service changes by:  

  • Strengthening our partnership with the DC BIDs by initiating a weekly conference call to ensure continuity of our services; 
  • Increasing our postings to Nextdoor; 
  • Attending virtual meetings with ANCs and the DC Bicycle Advisory Council;
  • Communicating with ANCs through email blasts; and
  • Resolving constituent inquiries with the DC Council and sending critical communications through email blasts.

 

DPW’s Customer Service Clearinghouse specialist was assigned as co-manager of the citywide COVID-19 hotline, where she facilitated delivery of more than 27,000 food, hygiene, PPE, pediatric, prescription, mental health, and utilities kits to DC residents in need.

DPW social channels amplified messages initiated by EOM to ensure consistent messaging to District residents regarding the public health emergency.

Our Clearinghouse also responded to more than 400 emails regarding the Ft. Totten Transfer Station operations, street sweeping and cleaning services, as well as parking enforcement since the beginning of the public health emergency through December 31, 2020. A static message is included at the bottom of DPW Clearinghouse emails that directs residents to the District’s operating status link on coronavirus.dc.gov.

Sixty-eight percent of DPW employees are DC residents, so we made a special effort to communicate safety tips and reminders through DPWTV via the 21 electronic monitors installed in 10 of DPW’s 12 locations. Additional information was provided in the agency’s quarterly employee newsletter.

And We Ably Managed our Solid Waste, Parking Enforcement, Fleet Management and Facilities Responsibilities

As a data-driven department, we evaluate performance, manage resources, and plan for the future by tracking what we do, how long it takes, and how much it costs. 

Our FY 2020 performance measures show that while COVID-19 has affected some of our work, we maintained continuity of essential services and we will do so after the pandemic is brought under control. Here are some examples.

Our Solid Waste Management Administration (SWMA) is responsible for solid waste collections, street and alley cleaning, solid waste regulations enforcement, and the operation of the District’s two transfer stations. 

In FY 2019, we collected more than 94,000 tons of household waste but in FY 2020, we collected almost 5,000 more tons because residents spent more time at home. Increases also were observed in recycling and bulk trash collections.

However, the temporary closure of the Ft. Totten Transfer Station citizen drop off, where residents bring their electronic and household hazardous waste and have their personal documents shredded, caused substantial reductions in each of these collections. The most dramatic reduction was in the amount of electronic waste brought by residents between FY 2019 and FY 2020, which was down by 70 percent.

Household hazardous waste and document shredding tonnages were reduced by 21 percent and six percent, respectively. 

Among our 13 Key Performance Indicators (KPI), eight either were met or nearly met. Unfortunately, COVID-19 affected the remaining five KPIs. 

For instance, our parking enforcement operations were curtailed, with enforcement limited to serious safety violations, such as blocking crosswalks and fire hydrants. Enforcement of other violations, such as expired meters, vehicle registrations, and residential parking permit timing, was suspended. We also suspended seasonal street sweeping; therefore, we discontinued parking enforcement related to this program.

Our Parking Enforcement Officers achieved considerable success in writing accurate parking tickets. In FY 2020, 99.8 percent of our tickets were upheld when challenged. 

Since October 2020, our Parking Enforcement Management Administration (PEMA), which is responsible for parking enforcement, towing, abandoned vehicle investigation and impounding vehicles has: 

    • Supported 12 First Amendment protests.
    • Served as leaf collection route monitors.
    • Supported operations at COVID-19 test site operations.
    • Monitored contract plows working in several snow events.
    • Driven light plows in several snow events, and
    • Worked at several polling sites during the Presidential election.

Our Fleet Management Administration (FMA), which is essential to all District government agencies’ successful operations, realized multiple achievements. In FY 2020, Fleet exceeded its 60 percent goal of ensuring on-time preventive maintenance by more than 19 percent. Additionally, Fleet introduced significant performance tracking protocols, which more clearly identify where resources, including additional supervision, need to be applied or redirected.

For many years, Fleet has been a national leader in environmental stewardship, promoting the use of alternative fuel vehicles to reduce greenhouse emissions. In FY 2020 and 2021, we continued replacing all light duty sedans with electric or Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) models across all DPW maintained agency fleets. We have 117 electric or PHEV vehicles in the District fleet (35 operated by DPW) and we will receive 88 vehicles this year.

We also are standardizing electric vehicle (EV) charging station installations, with 45 chargers in the final phase of permitting and another 35 with completed plans. This program will expand rapidly in the coming years as electric vehicles multiply across more vehicle classes.

This year, we will begin testing electric street sweepers and pickup trucks. We are replacing trash trucks and heavy plows with models that run on 100 percent biodiesel. These trucks have been found to reduce emissions by 75 percent over their standard diesel counterparts. The District fleet has 24 of these vehicles, with another 84 to due to arrive in 2021. In 2020, DPW was awarded a Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Grant for the replacement of 15 diesel trash trucks with 100 percent biodiesel units that will fund 25 percent of the cost of the truck, or approximately $1 million. 

DPW’s alternative fuels vehicle fleet includes 70 compressed natural gas (CNG), 191 flex fuel (E85/Ethanol), three electric, 32 Plug-in Hybrid Electric, 48 hybrid, 475 biodiesel and 24 100 percent biodiesel vehicles. 

Continuing the theme of environmental stewardship, I am pleased to report our Food Waste Drop Off program has grown each year since its Earth Day 2017 beginning. Fortunately, farmers markets were deemed essential, which allowed the continuation of this program, while following COVID-19 protocols. The public supports the program, and in FY 2020, it achieved a 32 percent increase over FY 2019. 

This month we will begin a two-month tagging program to further reduce contamination rates in recycling materials. We will target 16,000 households, along 16 recycling routes with the highest contamination rates. Results will be available later this year. 

We launched our East of the River Compost Stewards Program in August to address disparities in composting in Wards 7 and 8. We hired two stewards to improve composting efforts through increased community engagement, job training, and skills development. 

The program works with faith-based and community-based organizations to foster a more personal relationship between residents of Wards 7 and 8 and DPW. Together, we will facilitate food waste composting. These actions will further support other DPW composting programs and the urban farm community. 

DPW started its home composting incentives program in February 2020. Participants receive a rebate up to $75 to apply toward purchasing a home composting system after attending a Home Composting workshop. 

The program has attracted 463 residents to the two in-person and eight online workshops, and we have distributed 107 rebates. 

A high point in our FY 2020 environmental stewardship was securing, for the first time, 100 percent in Multi-Sector General Permit Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and Training for all 18 DPW sites. This is the highest grade DPW has ever received. To keep everyone on track, the SSA team developed maps and checklists for each facility and put boots on the ground to help staff become more aware of their roles in this important environmental program. 

 

Active Snow Season Incorporating COVID-19 Protocols

I opened my testimony by noting my short tenure as DPW Director has been shaped in many ways by our effort to quickly restore safe travel for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists following several snow events. 

While this is a more normal season than last, when we got just 0.6 inches of snow, I think residents, businesses, and the Snow Team are ready for spring.

As with all our operations, before the first flake fell, we incorporated COVID-19 protocols, including ample amounts of PPE, virtual training, and observing social distancing measures by staggering our deployment times and adding a fourth deployment site.

 

Accolades to DPW Employees

All the successes I described today are the successes earned by DPW employees, of whom 68 percent are District residents. Our employees are our greatest asset. 

Through our robust training program, operated by the Human Capital Administration (HCA), we invest in our employees’ professional and personal growth. We offer classes in obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License, accident/incident investigation, drug and alcohol policy, team dynamics, and issues such as harassment awareness and workplace violence.

I am honored to lead the Department of Public Works, where I have devoted more than 20 years of my life, working as a team member to ensure DPW employees have what they need to be successful. I have admired their commitment to going far beyond expectations to serve District residents and businesses. I have shared their joys, mourned their losses, and supported their efforts to achieve their highest goals.

Now I would like to present a brief collage of the people who serve the District with the highest commitment to excellence.

 

(Resume testimony after the video)

 

Thank you Chairperson Cheh for this opportunity to discuss the work of the Department of Public Works. I am prepared to answer any questions you may have.