This post was written by Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey. A version was cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington where Matt is a contributor.
Washington, DC has a unique form of hyper local government. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are psuedo-legislative bodies that represent neighborhood clusters and weigh in on a variety of local issues and provide constituent services. ANCs are made up of single member districts with each commissioner representing around 2,000 residents. There are currently 37 Commissions spread across the city.
The chairman of one of these commissions stole about $30,000 from his ANC last year. DC agencies struggle to provide enough oversight of dysfunctional ANCs. The District can start to increase accountability and transparency by making ANC financial reports available online.
ANCs must provide the DC Auditor with quarterly financial reports. The DC Auditor is responsible for auditing the financial information, maintaining a database of the information, and ensuring that the reports are in compliance.
It would be a small step to also make this information readily available to the public. The press and interested members of the public could then monitor the ANC financial reports and identify mistakes, omissions, and inconsistencies that may have been missed.
Under the current system, the DC government is not providing the resources required for adequate oversight. The size and scope of the ANC system outweighs the resources dedicated to overseeing it. The DC Auditor has many other responsibilities and the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, charged with administrating ANCs, only has two full-time staff members.
With financial information effectively hidden from the public, it takes extremely diligent individuals significant effort and time to uncover improper or missing information. In September 2011, the Washington Times discovered that the DC auditor approved ANC financial reports that were missing basic information, proper signatures, or evidence of tax deductions. The Times also reported that the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions doesn’t maintain records from the ANCs.
In the ANC 5B scandal, the DC Auditor initiated an audit after failing to receive financial reports for 3 consecutive quarters. The DC auditor currently posts a list detailing if and when ANCs submitted their financial reports.
If the database were available online, the public could have more easily and quickly found out about the DC Auditor’s and the ANCs’ failings, without having to rely on intrepid reporters sifting through hidden data.
Making this database available online should not place an undue burden on individual ANCs or the DC Auditor. But it will allow the press and public to better scrutinize these elected officials. Knowing that their records are easily available to the public may also encourage ANCs to follow proper financial procedure.
The ANC system is due for change. Putting these documents online would be a small step in the right direction.