Feb 9, 2022 - News

D.C. public works grilled for slow municipal services

A D.C. snow plow truck driving on a residential block

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

District residents are blasting the agency in charge of garbage collection, leaf cleanup, and towing abandoned vehicles over its management and claims of slow service.

Why it matters: Residents rely on the Department of Public Works for basic municipal services, including trash pickup, snow removal, and parking enforcement.

  • Climate change initiatives such as composting and waste reduction also fall under the agency, which is tasked with carrying out the city's goal of diverting 80% of trash from landfills and incinerators by 2032.
  • But the crucial agency is currently without a permanent leader. In early January, Mayor Muriel Bowser pulled from consideration her nominee for director, Christine Davis, after criticism from council member Mary Cheh, who leads the committee that oversees the agency. Cheh called for a national search for a new director.
  • The current interim director, Michael Carter, defended the agency at an annual oversight hearing yesterday while acknowledging some shortcomings. He said DPW has 290 staff vacancies.

Driving the news: Cheh convened the hearing, where residents shared frustrations with missed 311 requests and long waits for clearing illegal dumping. Cheh called for new “leadership that is visionary.”

  • “It’s like a sleepy little last-century operation,” she said during the hearing. “It just doesn’t cut it anymore.

What they’re saying: “When I drive through Ward 7, it is filthy,” resident Christine Phillips testified, saying that the agency neglects street cleaning even on prominent intersections. “It should not take four months to remove a mattress from a sidewalk.”

Carter said that crews are recording 98% and 99% completion of recycling and trash collection from homes, respectively.

  • He added that DPW is digitizing more internal systems, such as smartphone tools for abandoned vehicle investigators. He said a new platform allows the department to “monitor and observe trash routes in real-time.”

Flashback: Last December, the agency told lawmakers it had only four staff members to boot vehicles with unpaid traffic tickets, even though there is a backlog of over 630,000 vehicles that are eligible for a boot.

  • At yesterday’s hearing, Carter said there are 39 boots missing, after they were put on cars that together owed $129,000 in tickets.
  • Council member Christina Henderson wondered why police aren’t hunting for a potential boot thief. “Everybody’s talking about this person. This myth, this legend,” she said.

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