During his final two weeks in office, Mayor Adrian Fenty should publicly post all CapStat Action Item Reports that weren’t yet released.

CapStat Action Items propose and require specific, measurable changes to agency operations “to make District government run more efficiently, while providing a higher quality of service to its residents.”

Incoming Mayor Vincent Gray, volunteers on his transition team, and the DC Council could use these reports to assess in-progress and potential agency improvements. Furthermore, residents would gain insight into how District government dollars and time were invested to improve agency efficiency and resident quality of life. Residents could then offer feedback to Mayor Gray on changing or continuing these initiatives.

The posting of CapStat reports on DC.Gov occurred continuously from January 2007 until July 2008. The Fenty administration released 48 reports in 2007 (averaging 4.0 per month) and 22 reports in 2008 through July (averaging 3.1 per month).  After a gap of several months, two reports were posted in April 2009. Other than those two reports as a brief exception, CapStat Action Item Reports have been regularly withheld from the public since late July 2008.

One week after Mayor Fenty took office, he conducted his first CapStat meeting. On January 11, 2007, the day after that meeting with two agency directors, seven expected action items and deadlines were posted online.

For Fenty, CapStat represented his commitment to expand upon the operational improvements put into motion by his predecessor, Mayor Anthony Williams. The program, run by Office of the City Administrator (OCA), displays an ambitious motto on its website: “CapStat: Building a City that Works.”

Michael Neibauer (then with The Examiner) contributed to the favorable initial coverage of CapStat:

The Adrian Fenty administration is employing an “unremarkable but incredibly effective” tool to drive its focus on agency accountability, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said Tuesday: deadlines.

One by one, agency directors are leaving routine accountability sessions, dubbed “CapStat,” with a series of charges, each one tagged with a specific deadline they will be expected to meet.

Niebauer saw the value of these reports. Without missing a beat, Neibauer (after moving to Washington Business Journal) quickly noticed in 2008 when the Fenty administration stopped posting CapStat reports. He reached out to OCA and was first told that staffing constraints were the bottleneck. His later follow-up led to a less-than-congenial response from OCA: file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the documents. Niebauer did just that. His FOIA request was denied with the explanation that the reports “constitute records covered under the Deliberative Process Privilege.”

By ending the public review of these documents, the Fenty administration transformed a top example of government transparency into an unfortunate case of withholding government records. No resident could believe that the District (or any other government entity) is beyond the need for some improvement. By not revealing CapStat results, residents are left with the perception that no effort is made to systematically analyze available data and improve government operations.

Richard Layman brings up an excellent point in this regard, writing, “My issue with the DC Government call center (311/online) is I never see any reports on what people call about. Do they sift out stuff and identify (and address) structural problems?”

CapStat data analysis, process improvements and deadlines that are invisible to residents can only support Layman’s skepticism.

CapStat has been nationally recognized as an effective program to improve government operations and promote transparency. The program has addressed some concerns with high profile government responsibilities including snow removal, power outages, agency responsiveness and cross-border public safety issues. Government leaders and residents need to see what processes have been improved, which agencies have been successful (or not) with CapStat action items and what remains to be done by the next administration.

With tight budgets continuing and a new administration preparing its priorities, Mayor Fenty should do everything possible to support the transition. Posting all CapStat reports will help.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.