Government of the District of Columbia

The Government of the District of Columbia operates under Article One of the United States Constitution and the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which devolves certain powers of the United States Congress to the Mayor and thirteen-member Council. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the council and intervene in local affairs. The District Government is within the Legislative branch of Federal government, which makes the municipal government a Federal agency.[1]



The Mayor of the District of Columbia is the head of the executive branch. The Mayor has the duty to enforce city laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the Council. In addition, the Mayor oversees all city services, public property, police and fire protection, most public agencies, and the District of Columbia Public Schools.[2] The mayor's office oversees an annual city budget of $8.8 billion.[3]


The Council of the District of Columbia is the legislative branch. Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and residents elect four at-large members to represent the District as a whole. The council chair is also elected at-large.[4]

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions

There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs can issue recommendations on all issues that affect residents; government agencies take their advice under careful consideration.[5]

Attorney General

The Attorney General of the District of Columbia is the chief legal officer of the District. Following numerous election delays after D.C. voters approved a charter amendment in 2010 to make the office an elected position, white-collar attorney Karl Racine was elected in 2014 and sworn in in January 2015. Previously, the post was appointed by the Mayor.


The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the highest court. Established in 1970, it is equivalent to a state supreme court, except that its authority is derived from the United States Congress rather than from the inherent sovereignty of the states. The Court of Appeals should not be confused with the District's federal appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Court of Appeals is authorized to review all final orders, judgments, and specified interlocutory orders of the associate judges of the Superior Court, to review decisions of administrative agencies, boards, and commissions of the District government, and to answer questions of law presented by the Supreme Court of the United States, a United States court of appeals, or the highest appellate court of any state. The court consists of a chief judge and eight associate judges. The court is assisted by the service of retired judges who have been recommended and approved as senior judges. Despite being the District's local appellate court, judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for 15-year terms. The DC Courts are a Federal agency.[6]

The Superior Court of the District of Columbia is the local trial court. It hears cases involving criminal and civil law. The court also handles specialized cases in the following areas: family court, landlord and tenant, probate, tax, and traffic offenses. All appeals of Superior Court decisions go to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The Court consists of a chief judge and 61 associate judges. The Court is assisted by the service of 24 magistrate judges, as well as retired judges who have been recommended and approved as senior judges. Judges are appointed to the court by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for fifteen-year terms.[6]


There are 21 departments within the Government of the District of Columbia as of 2015. They are:


The Secretary of the District of Columbia is one of the officers of the government.

The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) is the local, traditional public school system. The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB) was created in 1996 as a second, independent authorizer of public charter schools.[7] The DC Council passed legislation in 2007 giving the DC Mayor direct authority over the DCPS and transferred the oversight responsibility for the charter schools previously authorized by the DC Board of Education to the PCSB.[7]

The District of Columbia Board of Elections (BOE) is the independent agency responsible for the administration of elections, ballot access and voter registration. The BOE consists of three active board members and an Executive Director.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABRA) is an independent adjudicatory body responsible for overseeing the District's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and hiring its director, conducting investigations, the licensing process, handling complaints, keeping of records, and referral of evidence of criminal misconduct to the proper authorities. The Board is composed of seven members, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council of the District of Columbia, who serve four-year terms.

Other agencies include:


The mayor and council set local taxes and a budget, which must be approved by the Congress.


According to DCHR (DC Department of Human Resources, 20% of the DC government workforce will be eligible for retirement in the year 2021. The DC government offers a host of internship opportunities for recent graduates seeking employment.[8]


The District of Columbia Code is the subject compilation of enacted legislation, and also contains federal statutes which affect the District of Columbia.[9] The District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) is the publication and compilation of the current regulations.[9] The District of Columbia Register (DCR) gives brief information of actions of the Council of the District of Columbia (such as resolutions and notices of council hearings) and actions of the executive branch and independent agencies (such as proposed and emergency rulemaking).[9]

The District observes all federal holidays and also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the end of slavery in the District.[10] The flag of the District of Columbia was adopted in 1938 and is a variation on George Washington's family coat of arms.[11]


Budget deficits

The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste.[12] During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America."[13] In 1995, at the start of Barry's fourth term, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending.[14] The same legislation created a Chief Financial Officer position for the District,[15] which operates independently of the mayor and city council.[16] Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998 and oversaw a period of urban renewal and budget surpluses. The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.[17]

The Government Accountability Office and other analysts have estimated that the city's high percentage of tax-exempt property and the Congressional prohibition of commuter taxes create a structural deficit in the District's local budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year. Congress typically provides additional grants for federal programs such as Medicaid and the operation of the local justice system; however, analysts claim that the payments do not fully resolve the imbalance.[18][19]

Voting rights debate

The District is not a U.S. state and therefore has no voting representation in the Congress. D.C. residents elect a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. The District has no official representation in the United States Senate. Neither chamber seats the District's elected "shadow" representative or senators. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, D.C. residents are subject to all U.S. federal taxes.[20] In the financial year 2012, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.7 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.[21]

A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states.[22] Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations and featuring the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates.[23] There is evidence of nationwide approval for D.C. voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress.[22][24] Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.

Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.[25]


The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 is an organic act enacted by Congress in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution that formally placed the District of Columbia under the control of Congress and organized the unincorporated territory within the District into two counties: Washington County to the north and east of the Potomac River and Alexandria County to the west and south; left in place and made no change to the status of the charters of the existing cities of Georgetown and Alexandria; and established a court in each of the new counties,[26] with the common law of both Maryland and Virginia continuing to remain in force within the District.[27]

The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown and established a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia. Though Congress repealed the territorial government in 1874, the legislation was the first to create a single municipal government for the federal district.[28]

The District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973 devolved certain congressional powers of the District of Columbia to local government and enacted the District Charter (also called the Home Rule Charter), furthering District of Columbia home rule.

See also


  1. "DC Home Rule". Council of the District of Columbia. Archived from the original on November 17, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
  2. "District of Columbia Home Rule Charter, Sec. 422". U.S. Congress. 1973-12-24.
  3. "District of Columbia Approved Fiscal Year 2010 - Excecutive Summary" (PDF). Government of the District of Columbia. 2009-09-28.
  4. "Current Elected Officials in DC". D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Retrieved January 11, 2012.
  5. "About ANC". Government of the District of Columbia. Retrieved September 22, 2012.
  6. 1 2 "Judicial Selection in the States: District of Columbia". American Judicature Society. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  7. 1 2 District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. "About the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board". Archived from the original on 28 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  9. 1 2 3 Georgetown Law. "District of Columbia In-Depth". Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  10. "Ending Slavery in the District of Columbia". D.C. Office of the Secretary. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  11. Glaser, Jason (2003). Washington, D.C. Capstone. p. 55. ISBN 978-0736822046.
  12. Powell, Michael (July 20, 2007). "Poor Management, Federal Rule, Undermine Services". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  13. DeParle, Jason (January 1, 1989). "The worst city government in America". The Washington Monthly. Retrieved June 6, 2009.
  14. Janofsky, Michael (April 8, 1995). "Congress creates board to oversee Washington, D.C." The New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  15. "History of OCFO". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  16. "Phoenix CFO Tapped for D.C.'s Top Finance Post". Governing. September 27, 2013. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  17. DeBonis, Mike (January 30, 2011). "After 10 years, D.C. control board is gone but not forgotten". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  18. "Buildling the Best Capital City in the World" (PDF). DC Appleseed. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 11, 2011. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  19. "District of Columbia Structural Imbalance and Management Issues" (PDF). Government Accountability Office. May 2003. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  20. "Individuals Living or Working in U.S. Possessions". Internal Revenue Service. Archived from the original on December 2, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  21. "Internal Revenue Gross Collections, by Type of Tax and State, Fiscal Year 2012" (XLS). Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  22. 1 2 "Poll Shows Nationwide Support for DC Voting Rights" (PDF). DC Vote Voice. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2008.
  23. "'Taxation without Representation' Tags". District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  24. "Washington Post Poll: D.C. Voting Rights". The Washington Post. April 23, 2007. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  25. Fortier, John (May 17, 2006). "The D.C. colony". The Hill. Archived from the original on November 12, 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2009.
  26. Organic Act, Section 3.
  27. "Statutes at Large, 6th Congress, 2nd Session". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-07-10.
  28. Tindall, William (1909). Origin and government of the District of Columbia. J. Byrne & co. p. 9.
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