COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
Report of a Visit by
The Committee of the Centre
to Washington and Boston
Ordered by The Committee of the Centre to be printed 12 June 2002
Report: 03/01R (Committee of the Centre )
19-25 MAY 2002
COMMITTEE OF THE CENTRE
MEMBERSHIP AND POWERS
The Committee of the Centre is a Standing Committee established in accordance with paragraph 10 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order No. 54 of The Northern Ireland Assembly. The Terms of Reference of the Committee are to examine and report on functions carried out in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and on any other related matters determined by the Assembly.
The Committee has the power to send for persons and papers.
The Committee has seventeen members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of five members.
The current membership of the Committee established on 15 December 1999, is as follows:
Mr Edwin Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Oliver Gibson (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Roy Beggs Jnr
|Mr Alex Maskey
Mr Conor Murphy
Dr Alasdair McDonnell
Mr Barry McElduff
Mr Eugene McMenamin
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon
In 2001 the Committee of the Centre accepted an invitation from Boston College to visit Boston as part of the Transition Programme funded by the US Government. The Committee, in view of its remit to scrutinise a number of functions carried out by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister including international matters, decided that it should take the opportunity to visit Washington to look at the role and remit of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington. Unfortunately, plans for the visit to take place during 2001 had to be cancelled a number of times. However, following the official opening in February 2002 of new premises for the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington plans for the visit were revived.
The main aim of the visit to Washington was to see at first hand the operation of the Northern Ireland Bureau, to consider its role and remit, and to assess its effectiveness.
In both Washington and Boston the Committee aimed to meet as wide a range of individuals and organisations as possible and to exchange views on current topics of relevance to the Committee. Chief among these issues is the forthcoming Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland.
VISITS AND MEETINGS
There follows a report on the various meetings and events that took place during the visit.
SUNDAY 19 MAY 2002
6.00 pm Reception hosted by Dr Peter Smyth, Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, and Mrs Smyth at their home to welcome the Committee to Washington.
MONDAY 20 MAY 2002
9.30 am Meeting at the US Department of Justice with Mr James Angus, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, and Mr Philip L Breen, Special Legal Counsel in the Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section.
Mr Angus set out the background to the work of the Division and gave a brief history of the development of civil rights in the US. He highlighted three amendments to the Constitution that arose out of the Civil War. The 13th prohibited slavery, the 15th gave the right to vote and the 14th guaranteed every person the right to the due process of the law. Mr Angus also set out the various milestones during the Twentieth Century leading up to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. This provides very comprehensive rights for disabled people and contains similarities to the Disability Discrimination Act in the UK. It provides for enforcement by the individual or through the Department of Justice.
There followed a discussion with Committee Members about a number of issues arising from the presentation including the perception that one community could feel it suffered when another was given rights and also how disability discrimination was monitored. It was noted that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was not included in Federal laws but was legislated for by some States.
11.00 am Meeting with Hon Richard Haass, Director of Policy Planning for the Department of State. Ambassador Haass is the lead US Government Official in support of the Northern Ireland peace process. Ambassador Haass was accompanied by Meghan O'Sullivan, US Department of State.
Ambassador Haass gave his assessment of the current position in Northern Ireland. He was positive about progress and cited a number of issues including policing and police recruitment, a reduction in violence on the ground, the second act of decommissioning, and some demilitarisation. He recognised that political cultures were still brittle and problems still existed such as the security situation in North Belfast, the need for more cross community dialogue and the need for paramilitaries to go beyond the cease-fires. He said that decommissioning was not enough and he wanted to see the structure of paramilitaries dismantled with a return to normal politics. He also spoke about the forthcoming Assembly elections next year.
A representative of each party put forward their views on the current position and this was followed by a frank exchange of views.
12.00 pm Meeting with Cindy L Dalton, Executive Briefing Expert at the IBM Institute for Electronic Government.
The Institute of Electronic Government, IBM Corporation, was founded in 1995 as a resource for public sector leaders world-wide in electronic government. The IEG focuses on issues including public policy as it relates to technology strategy and execution, economic development and education, online citizen and business services, and e-democracy.
Ms Dalton gave a detailed and informative presentation to Members about the background and challenges faced in developing electronic services. She highlighted the policy changes needed and the potential benefits. These include improving services to citizens and businesses, driving operational efficiencies, enhancing economic developments and redefining the way government communicates with citizens.
Ms Dalton highlighted the key e-business benefits for governments including improving services to citizens and businesses; driving operational efficiencies; enhancing economic developments; and redefining community and governance. The measurable benefits of e-governments are the collection of additional revenue, direct savings through lower transaction costs, and better productivity. She stressed the evolutionary nature of these developments and that overall savings only come at the end of the process.
Members asked about the percentage of people online in the US and about US Government spending on e-government. While the overall figure for the latter is not known the President's Appointee for E-Government has a budget of $5 million per year.
Following the presentation Members had an opportunity to explore a number of leading edge e-government web developments and see how services can be arranged and delivered. Members also had a demonstration of how meetings can take place online in real time. The demonstration also highlighted the ability to share documents etc instantly.
2.15 pm Meeting with Gary Matthews, Director of Internal Affairs Program in the National Academy of Public Administration and Myra Shiplett, Director, Centre for Human Resources Management.
Mr Matthews set out the background to the National Academy of Public Administration. It is an organisation dedicated to improving the performance of governance systems - to make government work for all. The Academy, which has been in existence for 35 years, is an independent, non-profit organisation chartered by Congress and has around 500 fellows. The Academy also promotes discourse on emerging trends in governance through Standing Panels and with external funding.
Ms Shiplett dealt mainly with a number of human resource implications of changes in administration including 'downsizing' or 'right sizing'. She indicated that in the 1990s the goal had been simply to get people out the door with no thought for the skill mix of those remaining. This had been an expensive lesson for many organisations. New studies show that a more strategic approach will yield cost benefits. This involves taking time to think about the mission and goal of the organisation and the skills and competences that staff must have to deliver those services - in other words what do we need to do and who do we need to do it? The need for an effective communication plan and implementation plan was highlighted as well as the merits of workforce planning to address imbalances in skills.
Other issues discussed included the percentage of the US workforce in public sector employment, how the Academy work is funded, the Academy's recent work in Kosovo, and the opportunity for interns to work with the Academy.
3.30 pm Dr Peter Smyth, Director of the Bureau and Mr Norman Houston, First Secretary gave a presentation on the role and remit of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington.
The Bureau was established in 1991 within the British Embassy. It now has a staff of five and a budget of £592k per annum and is located in a prime downtown area of Washington convenient to the White House and Capitol Hill. The presentation highlighted the current approach to building contacts with the Bush administration, the Congress and other bodies as well as the Bureau's target audiences in Northern Ireland. The Committee noted the advantages offered by the move to the new central location. The opportunities to foster relations with the US Government Departments, Congress, US business and the wider community were stressed by the Bureau.
The Bureau stressed its aim to fulfil the commitment in the Programme for Government and gave details of its activities over the past 12 months which included 18 Ministerial visits from all 4 main parties, 25 functions at the new premises and over 2,000 face-to-face contacts. The Bureau also highlighted a number of special projects that it is undertaking including, public transportation with DRD, adult literacy with DEL, the Civil Service Intern Scheme, and young leaders programme, as well as facilitating links between schools in New York and Omagh following 11th September and links between the NI Fire Authority and Greater Phoenix Fire Department.
The Bureau gave details of its performance measures and the issues it will be addressing in the future.
The Chairman and members of the Committee commended the staff in the Bureau for their positive approach and undoubted success in achieving their stated aims.
4.15 pm Meeting with Susan Stewart, First Secretary for Scottish Affairs in Washington.
Ms Stewart briefed the Committee on the recently established Scottish Affairs office in Washington. The office is there to represent the Scottish Executive. It is staffed by Ms Stewart and a part time secretary and is based within the British Embassy, as the NI Bureau had been until recently. The Office is learning from the experience of the NI Bureau and co-operates closely with it. Ms Stewart is keen to harness the interest in existing Scottish organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Opera, etc. Members of the Committee explored the potential for links on Ulster Scots issues.
6.30 pm Six Members of the Committee attended a Garden Party hosted by the British Ambassador, Sir Christopher Mayer, at the British Embassy (a limited number of places were available). The function was organised on behalf of the British American Business Association.
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
9.15 am The Committee had a round table meeting at the Northern Ireland Bureau on Women's Issues and US support for women in Northern Ireland. Those taking part were Melanee Venveer, Vital Voices, Virginia Manuel, Manuel Consulting, Barbara Ferris, President International Women's Democracy Centre, Harriet Fredman, Small Business Agency and Rosemary O'Neill, US State Department. Each gave a presentation on the work of their organisation.
Melanee Venveer spoke about her role as President of Vital Voices Global Partnership. By encouraging women to take part in business they would have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and contribute to the prosperity of the community. She stressed that women have a significant role to play in contributing to the economy. Ms Venveer also spoke about her role as Chief of Staff to the former First Lady Hillary Clinton that brought her to Northern Ireland a number of times. She spoke about the work of the Interagency Women's Council. She indicated that through key people from different agencies working together a number of issues could be pushed up the agenda very quickly.
Virginia Manuel spoke about her work with women entrepreneurs. During the Clinton administration she had also travelled regularly to Northern Ireland on behalf of the US Department of Commerce.
Barbara Ferris is a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland and has hosted several women's groups from Northern Ireland in Washington. These were mainly from the non-government sector and training was provided on standing for political office or lobbying. They would normally spend two weeks in the US learning how the system works. In addition to workshops and seminars they would spend some time shadowing a lobbyist.
Harriet Fredman is the Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Women's Business Ownership at the Small Business Administration. She stressed the US Government's commitment to advancing women's rights and said that promoting women's rights would improve not only the lives of women but also their families, communities and society in general.
Ms Fredman spoke about funding to assist women who want to start their own business through Women's Business Centres. There are nearly one hundred of these across the US. These centres provide information, training, best practice and access to programmes and services. She also gave details of the SBA loans programmes designed to support women entrepreneurs.
Rosemary O'Neill explained how she became interested in the affairs of Northern Ireland following a weeklong trip there in 1992. Ms O'Neill explained that she was a career civil servant who works in the Women's Bureau in the Department of State. Ms O'Neill gave details of her work on the political and security situation of women in Afghanistan.
11.00 am Meeting with Tony Fader on e-government. Mr Fader apologised that Mark Forman, the President's appointee for e-government was unable to attend the meeting.
Mr Fader explained that e-government was a priority in the President's Management Agenda. Mr Forman was appointed by the President to oversee the implementation of information technology throughout the Federal Government. Mr Fader gave a short summary of the work of his office and answered questions by Members. In response to a question about the potential for efficiency savings he gave an example of the existence of 19 separate agencies for loans. This leads to duplication with 19 sets of procedures and 19 sets of staff and citizens do not know where to go for information. The approach through e-government is to consolidate these agencies and provide a single portal.
The potential of e-government to impact on the Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland was explored. The question of whether the US targets all services for provision by electronic means or only key services was raised and Mr Fader explained that it was all services with the caveat of "where applicable or practicable".
Mr Fader explained that the areas tackled in the agenda are government to government, government to citizens and government to business.
Discussion also took place on action to tackle the digital divide and the accessibility of services by telephone but Mr Fader explained that this was not a focus of this programme. Other issues discussed included the use of technology to meet the requirements of freedom of information, the sharing of information between government agencies, and the need to simplify forms.
12.30 pm. Lunch with Members of Congress and Senior Staffers at Capitol Hill. The lunch was attended by Congressmen Joseph Crowley, James Walsh and William D Delahunt and a large number of senior staffers. This provided an opportunity to exchange views and information. The Congressmen welcomed the Committee to Washington and the Chairman and representatives of each party responded.
2.30 pm. The Committee had a tour of the Capitol hosted by Congressman Crowley. This included an opportunity to see the Congress in session.
3.00 pm. Meeting with Charles W Johnson, Chief Parliamentarian of the House.
The Parliamentarian is a non political post appointed by the Speaker and he is charged with the management, supervision and administration of the Office of the Parliamentarian. Mr Johnson spoke about his duties as Parliamentarian and the make up of the House and Senate. He also spoke about the changes he has seen during his time in office.
Mr Johnson gave Members a copy of the Rule Book and advised that there are 16 volumes of supplementary guidance to the rules.
Mr Johnson spoke of his contacts with Northern Ireland and said that he hoped to visit again at the end of June 2002 along with a number of Congressmen. The Committee invited Mr Johnson to visit the Assembly.
4.00 pm Meeting with J Russell George, Staff Director and Chief Counsel to the Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.
Mr George explained the role of the subcommittee, which was to provide oversight of the executive branch of the executive. It is a subcommittee of the Committee on Government Reform. Its aim is to make government work more effectively. The committee has power to request papers and to subpoena witnesses. The Chief Financial Officer Act established a CFO in every major branch of the agency.
As part of its oversight the Committee has drawn up a 'Report Card' and each department is given an overall score rated A to F. Staffers from the Auditor General helped to draw up the criteria used in determining the score. This has been very effective and has highlighted the departments that are not performing well. The results are widely publicised and have even been quoted in the Economist. Mr George agreed to forward a copy of the criteria.
There is only a staff of 5 people to provide oversight of 1.2 million employees so the Committee focuses on departments that are rated D or F and by calling them before the Committee to explain their performance.
4.45 pm Meeting with Nicholas P Coleman, Professional Staff member and Counsel to the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources of the Committee on Government Reform.
The Subcommittee has a very broad jurisdiction over all Federal drug policy, criminal policy, prevention and all aspects of drugs. Their role is to ensure that funding is spent the way Congress intended and assess whether it is having any effect in reducing crime. The subcommittee also has oversight of international drug enforcement measures. Following September 11 the emphasis has changed but the subcommittee is trying not to lose sight of other issues.
There is a move on to educate the public on the connection between drugs and terrorism. In answer to a question about the debate to legalise soft drugs Mr Coleman indicated that there was not big political support for the issue in the US. There was also discussion on the gun control debate.
6.30 pm Reception at the Northern Ireland Bureau with invited guests hosted by Dr Peter Smyth, Director.
WEDNESDAY 22 MAY 2002
The Committee travelled to Boston.
4.00 pm Meeting with The Honorable Thomas M Finneran, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the Chamber of the House.
The Speaker gave a brief history of the House and the Chamber. The House of Representatives has 160 members each serving about 40,000 people and appointed for a 2 year term. The Senate has 40 Senators with a 4-year term. Both are predominately Democratic.
The Speaker noted that many of the seats are not contested and that political uptake is on the wane. A discussion took place on the reasons for this covering the widening of career choices, less admiration for politics, the decline of institutions such as the Churches, Family, the role of Media etc. It was noted that the turnout at elections has also dropped particularly amongst 18 - 35 year olds.
The salary of Members of the House is approximately $50,000 per year and many have additional part-time jobs although most treat it as a full time occupation. There are 1 - 2 sessions per week. With only 12 Republicans in the House, the political tension is within the Democratic Party. The Speaker appoints the Chairs of the Committees who receive extra remuneration for this duty. There is no sharing of Chairmanships with the Republican Party. The last election of the Speaker was a contest between two Democratic candidates and Mr Finneran won it with the support of the Republicans.
The Speaker noted that electioneering is generally carried out by "hitting the Street". Elections are generally held for districts of approximately 40,000 people usually corresponding to towns or geographical areas. During a discussion on the development and role of Civic Society it was noted that this may be a way to involve people in politics.
The Speaker noted that seeking election at the State level could cost up to $1m and this could put people off. There is no limit on what you can spend on an election but there is a limit of $500 donation from an individual to a political candidate.
In the discussion of the relationship between the various levels of Government, it was noted that the Members of the House have the closest interaction to the City/Town levels with only occasional interaction at Federal Level.
The Speaker also discussed tax-raising powers. He noted that certain things are reserved to the Federal level, the State and the local level. Towns for example can only raise their taxes by 2½% each year and that this limits what can be done. This means that the local level often approach the state level for finances. At the Federal level finance is raised by an income tax, which is generally around 35%. The State can add another 5% to this - some States decide not to. The State can also raise finances on sales tax, meals tax, liquor tax etc.
7.00 pm Welcoming dinner at Boston College with a number of invited guests hosted by Dr James McIntyre, Senior Vice President of Boston College.
After the dinner guests were addressed by Kathleen O'Toole, former Secretary of Public Safety. Ms O'Toole spoke about her approach to management and about her experience as a member of the Patton Commission. She also answered questions from Members.
THURSDAY 23 MAY 2002
10.00 am Meeting with Mr Tom Reilly the Commonwealth's Attorney General.
Mr Reilly noted that Civil Rights were important to his Office. He talked about September 11th when the building had to be evacuated and the impact of that event on the large Muslim Community in the Massachusetts Area. The Office clamped down very quickly with a very strong response to any reaction to use the Muslim population as scapegoats.
On victims compensation, Mr Reilly noted that the Government moved slowly and that his office had made it a policy to move quicker. The AG is elected every 4 years and although he is a Democrat, while he is in Office, he is the AG for all and is answerable to the people.
The Chairman give an introduction and background to the Committee of the Centre after which the Committee heard presentations from a number of individuals within the AG Office.
Dean Richlins, First Assistant Attorney General, Overview of the Attorney General Office
Mr Richlin noted that he reports to Mr Reilly and that everyone reports through him. He noted that the origin of the Attorney General Office was as the Kings Lawyer.
Initially the office of AG was not a Constitutional position and he was appointed by and served the Governor. However, it is now a Constitutional and elected position and is almost another branch of Government. It is an Authority which has evolved and now sets a unified legal policy of the Government. The Office can pursue a course of action in opposition to the Governor and Government. It has 500 employees of which 220 are lawyers. It has an annual budget of $30m and with various grants etc this can go up to $50m. It has 6 bureaux and 21 divisions as well as various cross-departmental working groups. It can be called upon to defend the Government but can also take a strong position against the Government.
Chief John Grossman, High-Tech Division
The presentation covered establishing the High Tech and Computer Crimes Division, computer crimes on the rise - recent cases, challenges of prosecuting computer crime, internet safety for kids.
Previously it had been noted that the AG office has 5 "patrol men" patrolling the internet daily for sexual "predators". Mr Grossman noted that technology is always changing and is unpredictable. High Tech and Computer crime can cover everything from fraud to child pornography to murder cases.
An example was given of how an employee killed his co-workers and claimed he was insane. However, evidence found on his home computer showed how he had bought books and undertaken research on how to fake mental illness.
Virtual Child Pornography was another problem. This is when a digital image of a child is created. It is not illegal to show such digital images of children and the AG office is looking at how this can be tackled. Due to a quirk in the law it is not illegal to disseminate such pictures but it is illegal to print and sell them. It costs considerable amounts of money to keep up with technology and to train staff to keep up in what is a rapidly changing environment.
Mr Grossman also noted that child pornography could happen in chat rooms and there is a need to be able to work across national and international borders. Children are also both victims and perpetrators i.e. most hackers are 14 - 25 year old males. Mr Grossman give an example of children in a local school who got caught up in a chat line which focused on pornography and suggested murder of teachers and pupils.
Tina Matsuoka, Assistant AG and Patricia Correa, Assistant AG,
Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Division
The presentation covered Civil Rights, hate crimes, hate crime task force, employment discrimination, Disability Rights Project, Attorney General's response to hate crimes in the wake of September 11th.
Ms Matsuoka talked about the outreach programme on hate crimes in the post September 11th situation. A task force was set up and training was given to police and to various groups and schools. There was immediate prosecution of people involved in hate crimes against the Arab American population. There was some discussion on the prosecution of hate crime under the criminal law and how individuals could also take cases under civil law for compensation.
Cheryl Watson, Director, Victim Compensation and Assistance Division
The presentation covered the AG's victim compensation program and relationship with the DA's office, September 11th response and assistance to victims.
This session took the format of general questions from members covering aspects such as a limit of $25,000 compensation per victim. Only certain expenses can be covered i.e. medical or funeral. The programme covers victims of rape and mental/emotional abuse. Crime has to be a reported crime. Victims can take a civil suit to get more compensation. There are a 1,500 new claims each year plus a number of old claims.
Janet Fine, Director, Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance
Overview of MOVA, Victim Bill of Rights ; State services
The Victims Rights Law was established in 1984 and gives increased levels of accountability for victims. The prioritisation is for victims of violence. There is a Victims Board to oversee the implementation and victims are to have a voice in the decisions about the penalty for the perpetrator of the crime i.e. plea-bargaining.
Funding is available for programmes in the Community such as Child Abuse Counselling including training and conferences.
12.30 pm Lunch at the Union Oyster House with Ms Marie Turley, Executive Director of the Boston Women's Commission, Patricia A Nickerson, Boston Women's Commission and Jacqueline R. Cooke, Regional Administrator, US Department of Labor.
During lunch, Ms Turley give a short presentation on the Boston Women's Commission which has been in existence since 1984. She explained that the mission of the Commission is to provide technical assistance to individuals and organisations on issues concerning women and to advocate for increased attention to public policy initiatives that affect women's equal participation, economic security, family commitments, health and safety. The Commission also provides advocacy and educational programmes and opportunities for girls to experience a full range of life opportunities.
The Commission has 14 members appointed by the Mayor to serve 3 year terms and the appointments reflect the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of the City.
3.00 pm Meeting in the State House with William F Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Mr Galvin explained that Massachusetts has the oldest constitution in the US and was written by Mr John Adams. The constitution lays out the basic concept of an independent Executive and Legislature and the rights of citizens.
The post of Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is to keep records and run the elections. For example, it is the right of the citizen to see public documents such as commercial tenders or contracts. Only the police have the right to refuse documents until after a case is settled. Citizens dissatisfied with the record or documents can take it to the Secretary for appeal.
The Secretary noted that while Massachusetts is a Democratic State, 50% of the electorate are registered as Independent. This is significantly different from before when the majority of voters were registered as Democratic. People are generally not turning out to vote. In some local government areas there is only a 20% turnout while at State level there may be a 50% turnout. The trend is away from political parties as people become more sceptical about Government.
People have to be registered to vote and there are 351 voting districts. All must liaise with the Secretary's Office on voting issues. However there are no identity cards and only occasional challenges on identity. The issue of electoral fraud by stealing votes is not an issue.
The Secretary quickly noted the issue of Freedom of Information by informing the Committee that all information is available except for health records. There are some problems about the release of Employment History Records. If a record request is refused, the first appeal is to the Secretary who gives an opinion based on what the courts have said in similar cases. If still not satisfied, the person requesting the information can take it to court with the requestor paying the cost. The majority of requests are from the media.
The number of seats that a State has in the Federal Houses is based on its population as a percentage of the national population. That is why census material is very important. Massachusetts has a large and increasing Hispanic population but also a very diverse ethnic makeup with issues around language problems. For example, the census was available in 7 different languages. Boston city has significant Hispanic, Franco-American, Irish and Italian populations.
Finally the Secretary noted that Massachusetts has a similar scheme to New TSN but it is based largely on geographic areas. The main criterion is nearly always income.
6.00 pm Reception at the home of Her Majesty's Consul General to Boston the Honorable George Fergusson and Mrs Fergusson.
FRIDAY 24 MAY 2002
10.00 am Seminar on Public Administration hosted by State Senator Richard Moore.
Senator Moore welcomed the Committee to the State House. He serves approximately 140,000 people. He explained that the State is currently experiencing cash flow problems due to the economic downturn. Over $1b had been lost from revenue normally gained in Capital Gain Taxes. This means that in the incoming budget cutbacks have had to be made in social and educational programs, three prisons have been closed etc.
State Senator Moore explained that there are currently 40 Senators of whom 34 are Democrats and 6 Republicans. The Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Treasurer and Auditor General are elected representatives who are independent from the Senate.
During a discussion on Local, State and Federal Government, it was explained that Local Government is seen as a sub division of the State, which has great control over it. However, in New England, there is a tradition of "home rule" for Local Government. The State of Massachusetts has 10 Representatives and 2 Senators in Washington. The relationship between Washington and Massachusetts is largely conducted through the Senate.
Kimberly Ainsworth, Executive Director to the Boston Federal Executive Board
The Federal Executive Boards (FEB) were established in 1961 by a Presidential Directive to improve co-ordination among Federal activities and programs outside Washington. The need for effective co-ordination amongst the field activities of Federal departments and agencies is very clear. Approximately 84% of all federal employees work outside of Washington and decisions affecting billions of dollars are made in the field. Federal programs have their impact largely through the actions of field representatives and such officials are the principle contact of the federal government with the citizens of the USA. Ms Ainsworth explained that there are 20 such FEBs across the USA dealing with a range of Government Agencies. In the greater Boston area, for example, there are 110 such agencies. Areas that they are currently looking at include the high cost of travel and health benefits for federal employees. They are also promoting public service as a career as it is estimated that up to 50% of federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the few next years and replacements will be required.
Anne Hess, Chief of Staff to the Boston City Council Intergovernmental Relations Committee
Ms Hess give out a copy of the City of Boston Charter explaining that this governs how the City Council is organised and run. There are 13 Councillors, 4 of whom are City wide Councillors. These Councillors are elected by voters throughout the city and cover the entire city. There are 9 District City Councillors. The Councillors act as the legislature and the Mayor acts as the Executive. The power of the Mayor varies from City to City depending on the Charter. In the 1980's there was tension between the City, which was predominately Irish Catholic and the State legislature which was predominately old line Protestant. The State tried to manage the City and took certain powers away, many of which have now been restored. That tension is not such an important issue now. The City has a budget of $1.8b, which is submitted by the Mayor. Once submitted the Council has 60 days to go through it. This $1.8b does not cover capital costs.
It is possible to be a member of the Council and the State Legislature. Councillors receive $62,500 while the Representatives receive $55,000. The Mayor's salary is double that of Councillors and pay rises are now based on a cost of living increase. There are also 4,000 Council employees some with salaries larger than the Councillors.
The Council meets once a week and there is nothing precluding them having another job. Most Councillors are practising Attorneys.
11.00 am Meeting to discuss structures of government in a federal model.
Charlie Chieppo, Director Shamie Centre for Restructuring Government at the Pioneer Institute.
Mr Chieppo explained that the Shamie Centre was a think tank on State and Local Government issues. One such issue at the moment was the attempt to get patronage under control. For example, the Justice System in Massachusetts has had to cut translator posts and childcare due to budget constraints but up to 400 new posts have been created via patronage whose salaries are covered by the taxpayer.
In a customer driven model of government, services should be delivered at the lowest cost and Government should not be run for the benefit of the employees but for the taxpayer. The UK model of Next Step agencies is being explored i.e. Government figures out what it costs to deliver a service and then sees who can deliver it the best.
Prof. R Shep Melnick, Thomas P O'Neill Chair, Professor of Government in Department of Political Science at Boston College.
Prof. Melnick talked about some of the main issues that arise when consideration is given to reorganising Government. These are listed below.
- When comparing the delivery of tasks/services at the three levels of local, state and federal, many tasks can be carried out by the private sector at the local and State level. This is not the case at Federal level.
- There is some Federal Government reorganisation going on at present. For example, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service is widely recognised as functioning very poorly. It has now been broken down into two parts to try and increase efficiency.
- More co-ordination is needed. Often this is achieved by setting up co-ordinating committees. But co-ordination is very difficult, trying to mesh agencies with very different agendas and priorities.
- Cutting red tape often seems like a good goal in reorganising. However, red tape can often be a very valuable procedural safeguard.
- Being too customer service focused - Government is not merely in the job of providing services for people.
- Service delivery - the aim is to find a method to encourage employees to deliver services quickly and efficiently. Profit sharing is one such incentive.
- It is important to clearly define what we really want people to do in their particular job. For example, teachers do not teach well if hemmed in by rules and regulations.
- Finally - define if this is a service or task that should be done by Government.
Professor John Tierney, retired associate Professor of Political Science at Boston College
The USA system of Federal, State and Local organisation is important because it decentralises the electoral and decision making process. For example, there are court and legislative systems at all three levels of Government. There are
1 Federal Government,
50 State Governments,
3,043 County Governments,
13,726 School Districts (locally managed by school or Local Government),
34,000+ other public activities such as airports, water, transport etc.
At every level there are public officials vying for political power and building their own fiefdoms to influence policy. In 1929 Government expenditure was at 2.9% of GDP, today it is at 20% of GDP. At Federal level, overall employment (excluding the military) has decreased but it has increased at State and local level. Federalism has decentralised policy.
One advantage of Federalism is that it allows a multitude of opportunities for people to get involved in politics with the result that some issues never go away - they just pop up at another level.
States vary in their resources with the result that there is a big variation in the delivery of services particularly in welfare policies. States have to be careful since a generous welfare policy will invite people to move in from other States.
The structure makes reform very difficult as lots of people have a "piece of the pie" and a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Co-ordination is also difficult due to the silo mentality. For example, it was decided to go for privatisation of the postal service but to maintain political control. The postal service now tries to make business decisions but has to contend with the political reactions to these.
Finally the most important thing in restructuring is to ensure that it is not a top down approach but a 'form follows function' approach.
A valuable discussion of all these issues took place with all three speakers.
12.30 pm Lunch at Venezia Waterfront Restaurant hosted by Boston Police Captain Robert Dunford followed by visit to Colonel Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club, Dorchester to discuss Boston Safe Neighborhood Initiatives.
Police Captain Robert Dunford explained that the initiative was about decentralising policing down to the district level. They had a strategic policy on the neighborhood initiative, which covers
- Law enforcement
Each of these has a number of programs under it. The central theme to the initiative is to form partnerships with the community to fight crime and reduce fear. The Police Department resources are $200m of which 90% are fixed costs with $20m flexible of which 5% goes to community based projects. The strategic planning process has community involvement, allows for decision making on the ground (flattening the chain of command), and is published giving better accountability.
The population size of a community / neighbourhood initiative is between 30,000 - 80,000 people. Dorchester is the largest at 80,000.
The initiative came about because of major scandals in the Police Department which resulted in internal investigations and a loss of confidence by the community in policing. The police went into this initiative "kicking & screaming". The concept is based on "stewardship" and on community leaders being such stewards or "connectors" i.e. people who can connect to one another and connect groups and individuals together.
The Initiative is neighborhood focused i.e. there are 10 neighborhoods in the district. It looks at both general and specific needs. It is problem solving focused i.e. scan and action. If a "beat cop" is given a problem, he has 30 days to come back with a solution. It is results orientated. The police listen to the community i.e. every night there are 2 - 3 meetings of various groups at which the police attend. And it is based on mobilising community energy.
Captain Dunford explained that the initiative did not mean that the police were soft on crime - certain levels of conduct were not tolerated and the police came down hard when necessary. Community policing was what the Department was about and each officer carried it out.
A number of programs running under the Project Safeguard as part of the initiative were explained briefly to the Committee including:
- Truancy Prevention Program - based on preventing truancy amongst 8 - 12 year olds, the program saw a drop in daytime crime.
- Read Boston - officers visiting schools and reading to children to encourage children to develop a good relationship with the police.
- Night Light - police and probation officers visit offenders on probation to ensure that they are not breaking their probation by being out at night.
Ms Amy Thompson, Community Outreach Worker
Ms Thompson spoke about a Domestic Violence program involving young children. In the early 1990's crime was at an all time high and a group of doctors at a Boston Hospital expressed concern at the effects on children when they witnessed violence. They approached and created a partnership with the police. The police then came to the hospital and received training in dealing with children in violent incidents. One year after it started 95% of police officers reported an impact on how they were able to cope and deal with children at such scenes. As crime rates dropped the focus changed to dealing with children who had witnessed domestic violence. Domestic violence now accounts for some 35% of police work and one woman is killed each year in the district by domestic violence.
Dorchester Safe Neighborhood Advisory Council
The Advisory Council will meet with the Police Captain and this allows an opening up of the strategic and budget issues facing the Police Department. The Advisory Council is made up of representatives of interest and neighborhood groups. The Council cannot make decisions - that is the responsibility of the Police Captain but it can advise. For example, the Advisory Council asked for a dedicated helpline for the weekends particularly during the hours from 10pm to 4am. This allowed residents to make a call which was responded to urgently. Due to budget cuts the Police Department wanted to cut the line but were persuaded by the Council not to. It is the role of the Council members to take the information on the Police strategy and Budgets back to their communities. The Council meetings are open to the public.
Dorchester City Links Program
This is a cross cabinet initiative designed to assist with the economic distress and high rates of violence in mid Dorchester. This is a small area which is experiencing focused and concentrated crime. It will be based in a small office in one of the worst Streets in the area and will provide a number of services and resources. For example, a Youth Worker will be based in the building and people can access services such as policing, rubbish collection, planning permission, health etc. This is perhaps a first step to moving from neighborhood policing into neighborhood governance.
City II Initiative
This project is based around the Vietnamese community and is focused on the youth. It will work with the Vietnamese community in schools, in policing and parenting issues. There are currently 25,000 Vietnamese in this area many of whom are experiencing conflict between children and parents because of a change of tradition from Vietnam to the US. Traditionally in Vietnam, the schools took on the role of providing discipline and many of the parents have therefore no experience of the US system of the parents providing discipline. In addition, the Vietnamese have no tradition of trusting the police and do not therefore feel they can report crime or turn to the police for assistance.
Clinical Social Workers In Police Departments Project.
This project looks at placing a clinical social worker in the police station to help deal with children and young people who are arrested. If a child or young person has been arrested and brought to the station, the police will contact the Clinical Social Worker who will come down and immediately visit with the Child/Young Person. It is seen as a crisis situation intervention and the arrest is an opportunity to intervene and see if factors can be identified and dealt with, which lead to the arrest.
Northern Ireland Bureau
The main purpose of the visit to Washington was to consider the role and remit of the Northern Ireland Bureau. The Committee welcomed the opportunity to see the Bureau in operation and to meet and discuss a range of issues with staff.
The Committee was most impressed with the positive and professional approach of the staff in the Bureau in their efforts to build a positive profile of Northern Ireland in the US, to develop an understanding of US issues including the implications of the change to the Bush administration, and to provide support for Ministers and a range of other groups and organisations visiting the US. The Bureau has also fostered and facilitated many valuable links between organisations in Northern Ireland and the US.
The recent move to new premises in downtown Washington has greatly helped to provide the Bureau with its own identity. Its central location convenient to Capitol Hill and many departments of government is proving beneficial in maintaining existing contacts and fostering and building a range of new contacts.
The Committee is very pleased to record that the many people they met during the course of the visit had nothing but the very highest praise for the professional attitude and approach of the all the staff in the Bureau. However, the Committee noted with regret that both the Director and the First Secretary are due to leave post in the near future and would urge that every effort be made to provide as much hand over time as possible to ensure continuity and a smooth transition to new staff.
The Committee welcomed the meetings with leading political figures, including Ambassador Haass, Congressmen and staffers on Capitol Hill. This provided the parties with an opportunity to put forward and discuss their views.
The visit also provided the opportunity to gain new perspectives on a range of issues that fall within the remit of the Committee including programs for victims, women's issues including women in business, civil rights and anti-discrimination measures, as well as the latest developments in delivering government electronically.
In both Washington and Boston the Committee had an opportunity to explore a number of issues relevant to the forthcoming Review of Public Administration in Northern Ireland. These included the meeting with the National Academy of Public Administration, the seminar on public administration at Massachusetts State House, and the presentation by academics from the Shamie Centre and Boston College.
The meetings with top political figures in Boston, including the Speaker of the House and the Attorney General, gave Members an understanding of the State Government and how it relates to the Federal Government, and an opportunity to exchange views on a wide range of issues.
Finally, the visit to the Dorchester Safe Neighborhood Initiative greatly impressed Members and there may be valuable lessons for Northern Ireland from further exploration of such initiatives.
The Committee is profoundly grateful to Boston College for providing funding for travel and the costs of the Boston part of the visit. The Committee is also grateful to Dr Peter Smyth and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington and to Mr Colm O'Comartun and colleagues in the Boston College for all their assistance in organising the visit and for bringing together such a valuable and diverse range of contacts in a concentrated programme.
LIST OF ATTENDEES
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
Mr Edwin Poots MLA (Chairman)
Mr Oliver Gibson MLA (Deputy Chairman)
Mr Roy Beggs MLA
Mrs Eileen Bell MLA
Mr Duncan Shipley Dalton MLA
Ms Patricia Lewsley MLA
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Eugene McMenamin MLA
Mr Ken Robinson MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA*
Mr Hugh Farren, Committee Clerk
Ms Stella McArdle, Committee Clerk
Mr Hugh Widdis, Assembly Researcher
* Mr Shannon attended the Boston part of the visit only.