Municipal services

DC public works grilled for slow municipal services

District residents criticize the agency responsible for collecting trash, cleaning leaves and towing abandoned vehicles for its management and claims of slow service.

Why is this important: Residents rely on the Department of Public Works for basic municipal services, including garbage collection, snow removal and parking.

  • Climate change initiatives such as composting and waste reduction also fall under the agency, which is tasked with achieving the city’s goal of diverting 80% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2032.
  • But the crucial agency is currently without a permanent head. In early January, Mayor Muriel Bowser drawn consideration of its director candidate, Christine Davis, after criticism from board member Mary Cheh, who heads the committee that oversees the agency. Cheh has called for a nationwide search for a new manager.
  • Current acting director Michael Carter defended the agency at an annual oversight hearing yesterday while acknowledging some shortcomings. He said DPW had 290 vacancies.

Driving the news: Cheh convened the hearing, where residents shared their frustrations over 311 missed requests and long waits to eliminate illegal landfills. Cheh called for new “visionary leadership”.

  • “It’s like a sleepy little operation from the last century,” she told the hearing. “It’s not enough anymore.

What they say“When I drive in Ward 7, it’s dirty,” testified resident Christine Phillips, saying the agency was neglecting street cleaning, even at major intersections. “It shouldn’t take four months to pull a mattress off a sidewalk.”

Carter said crews are seeing 98% and 99% completion of recycling and garbage 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 waste routes in real time.”

Rollback: Last December, the agency told lawmakers it only had four staff members to start vehicles with unpaid tickets, even though there is a backlog of more than 630,000 vehicles eligible for a start.

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