Wooed by Washington, now committed to D.C. in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s city hall

Wooed by Washington, now committed to D.C. in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s city hall

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, March 23 at 6:52 PM

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser was accompanied by her community-relations director, Gregory Jackson Jr., at a news conference last week outside Ketcham Elementary School in Southwest to launch a resident outreach initiative. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Eight years out of college, Gregory Jackson Jr. had ascended swiftly in the world of Washington politics — to swing-state director for President Obama in 2012, then to national field director for electing House Democrats.

But Jackson, 29, recently found himself seated across from Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser weighing a career move that would take him in the opposite direction of most aspiring D.C. politicos: to a job with city government.

Bowser’s offer was gritty and far from the glamour of national politics: director of community relations. The unofficial job description? Fielding a ceaseless stream of complaints about potholes, trash and broken traffic lights.

“I jumped on it,” Jackson said.

He wasn’t alone. Since January, a wave of federal bureaucrats and national political staffers has washed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the D.C. government’s headquarters. Among the pilgrims: Obama’s top expert on homelessness among veterans, a chief bureaucrat in the General Services Administration, a former assistant chief of the Small Business Administration, the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and the spokesman and two former staffers for the Democratic National Committee.

The members of this class share a feeling of discontent over the partisan brinkmanship and policy paralysis that have come to define Washington. But some are also quick to point out another motivation: improving a city they now view as their home town.

Bowser’s young administration — which largely took shape last week, when a slew of confirmations sailed through the D.C. Council — has become an emblem of a capital city in the midst of dramatic change. Just as growing numbers of Washingtonians see the city as their home — not just a career way station — so, too, has the city government become a destination of its own.

Bowser (D) said she went into many interviews ready with a pitch but often didn’t have to make too hard of a sell. For one federal applicant, the mayor said, she just listed everything else on her day’s agenda, including a new soccer stadium.

“You can only see the benefits of those efforts in such a short time at the local level,” Bowser said.

D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger answers questions during a news conference last month at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center after Bowser announced her plans to address homelessness in the District. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

From global to local

Laura Green Zeilinger, Bowser’s new point person on the District’s homeless crisis, may best embody the optimism that has driven some professionals from national posts to the John A. Wilson Building.

For most of the 20 years since Zeilinger arrived in D.C., the triathlete and former college rower was focused on the kind of global problems that draw so many to Washington. Living in a cramped apartment on Capitol Hill, Zeilinger spent the late 1990s working on reforming the pension system in Kazakhstan.

She has served in city government before, working her way through law school at American University. By Obama’s second term, she was climbing the ranks at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Last year, she was tapped to lead the council and the final leg of Obama’s five-year sprint to end chronic homelessness for some 58,000 veterans nationwide.

One day in December, Zeilinger sat in her office planning a briefing for 19 Cabinet secretaries and reviewing an announcement that New Orleans would become the first U.S. city to meet its benchmark. Then she got a call from Bowser.

Zeilinger said she struggled with the decision to leave a job unfinished. But she felt a special obligation and opportunity to tackle a problem in her own back yard.

“This is the work that I am most passionate about, and this has become my home,” said the Cleveland native, who lives with her husband and children in Tenleytown. “I’m raising a teenager, and I have a 10-year-old. I care deeply about this community and a chance to make a difference.”

She also viewed Bowser an attractive boss.

“People in this town are inspired by strong leadership, especially strong political leadership, which gives people the opportunity to feel like their work matters and they can make change,” Zeilinger said. “I think that we’ve got that in this mayor.”

Two blocks from the White House, Kevin Donahue was working at the glacial pace of progress in a massive federal bureaucracy when a call came in on his cellphone from a number he did not recognize. On the other end of the line was Bowser.

“I immediately said: ‘Yes. When can I come in and interview?’ ” said Donahue, who was still smarting from the powerlessness and paralysis he felt sitting in his Northeast home for days during the last federal government shutdown.

Donahue also felt increasingly distant from actual results. As head of the Performance Improvement Council at the General Services Administration, Donahue was responsible for getting 24 of the largest federal agencies to coordinate and implement “new cross-agency priority goals.”

“It was a wonderful job,” Donahue said. “But I learned there’s a reason why the federal government appears to move slowly. And that is because if you move too quickly when you have a 200,000-person organization, what you are trying to do is probably going to be incoherent to the rest of the organization and you are probably going to fail.”

On an emotional level, the slow progress was deeply frustrating — especially when “you may have the answer,” he said. “How hard is it to get people to start acting consistent with what the answer is?”

Donahue is now Bowser’s deputy mayor for public safety, and his focus is to find better ways for the fire department to respond to life-and-death calls, and for the city to use all of its resources to reduce homicides.

“You can see a problem in the morning, try to find an answer in the afternoon, and go explain it to the people you’re trying to help at a community meeting that evening,” Donahue said. “That may not happen every day, but it happens often enough that it’s a very satisfying experience.”

Where the heart is

Bowser is not the first to attract national managers into city government. Donahue and Zeilinger, for instance, also worked for Adrian M. Fenty when he was mayor. Vincent C. Gray’s chief of staff was Christopher Murphy, a former deputy director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the class of arrivals from the federal government or Capitol Hill is larger this year than any in recent memory. And for some, one motivation was a very powerful, and in some cases very new, sense of seeing D.C. as home.

That is true for LaDavia Drane, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. Drane began her career in business law, worked as a congressional legislative director on Capitol Hill and then traveled the country for the Congressional Black Caucus. She always assumed that another job on Capitol Hill or a position at a K Street lobbying shop “was a much more likely next step.”

“I have to be honest,” said Drane, Bowser’s director of the newly created Office of Federal and Regional Affairs. “I’ve never been engaged in D.C. very much. . . . It’s very easy when you work for the federal government in D.C. to not feel like D.C. is home. You can still vote back home and still pay taxes back home.”

That changed for Drane about five years ago, when she and her husband bought a home in Ward 4, which Bowser represented on the D.C. Council. When the couple had a son last summer, they found themselves thinking about city schools and parks in ways they never had before.

“When I was on the Hill, I worked for my hometown congressman. There was something about working on things about my home town. . . . So this became a very logical transition — to my newfound home town. It was really just perfect.”

Jackson’s transition to local politics began with an intense experience two years ago. Walking home through the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, he and visiting cousins from North Carolina found themselves caught in the crossfire of a shootout. Jackson was struck in the leg.

“Luckily, I was the only one shot,” Jackson said, “but I really couldn’t believe that this happened in the place that was my city.” He began volunteering in his off hours, which he found fulfilling in ways that had begun to dissipate in his federal work.

When Jackson was shot, he was lobbying for Obama’s post-Newtown effort to pass stricter gun-control laws, through the president’s Organizing for Action group. The legislation failed the day before Jackson was shot.

His sense of purpose did not get much better when he moved over to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Continuing to work on campaigns after the last election felt hollow when so little could be done in a divided government.

“There has been very little if anything accomplished beyond executive orders,” he said. “I realized that for me to just continue in campaigns and politics would be to kind of divorce myself from where I started. I started because I believed we would have an impact.”

In January, Jackson’s name circulated among former Democratic National Committee staffers Michael Czin and Steven Walker, who had already come over to Bowser’s team as communications director and talent scout. They asked Jackson to consider meeting with the mayor about leading her effort to ramp up community relations to a 24-hour, rapid-response operation.

Bowser said luring national-caliber managers was an important goal for her administration.

“We went for interesting people, people I thought who had innovative ideas, people who I think have a lot of energy and people I’d like to work with,” she said.

An additional benefit, she said, is resetting the District’s image in a way that helps combat one of its largest challenges: slowing the exodus of the city’s higher achievers to Maryland or Virginia once they are ready to buy a home or have children.

A shifting population and upward enrollment in city schools offer encouraging signs for Bowser. But recent city statistics show that parents, especially middle- or high-income earners, remain as likely to leave the city in the first four years of parenting as they were a decade ago.

Jackson, for one, is ready to preach. He knows calls may be coming for him to join campaigns in 2016, but right now he is focused on D.C.

“Imagine,” he said, “if everyone put at least a quarter of the energy they put into national and federal politics into their local community and how much of a difference the city would be.”

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

Biologics are revolutionizing care for some diseases, but they are very costly

Biologics are revolutionizing care for some diseases, but they are very costly

By Susan Berger, Washington Post, March 16

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Mariah Leach’s age as 31, when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was 25. The article has been updated.

Mariah Leach felt at the top of her game six years ago. At age 25, she was pursuing a law degree and a master’s in environmental policy at the University of Colorado, earning straight A’s and playing water polo with the university’s club team. But then her toes began to hurt. A few weeks, later her knees swelled to the size of grapefruits.

The student health service told her she was anemic. Her hands began to hurt, which she assumed was from too much typing. After more tests, her doctors told her that she had rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. This autoimmune disease affects about 1.3 million U.S. adults and causes pain, swelling, stiffness and eventually deformity of and loss of function in the joints.

Leach began taking prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prednisone to reduce her pain and swelling, followed by methotrexate, which doctors hoped would halt the progression of the disease. That chemotherapy drug, though, has significant side effects and works well for only about 30 percent of RA patients. Unfortunately, Leach wasn’t one of them.

So her doctors added a biologic, a class of drugs introduced 15 years ago that seems to help people whose immune system attacks the body instead of protecting it from disease. Almost immediately Leach began to feel better — less exhausted, less in pain. The biologic, she says, gave her her life back.

Biologics have been similarly life-changing for people with multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, chronic pain and some forms of cancer. (A member of my family who has RA suffered for almost a year with terrible side effects from the standard drugs before moving to biologics.) Sales of these drugs have skyrocketed into the billions of dollars; television ads for Humira, Enbrel and Remicade are hard to miss.

Biologics are different from chemically derived drugs such as antibiotics: They are made from living organisms and require special handling in a controlled temperature while being produced.

Biologics are mostly available through specialty pharmacies. The drugs are primarily given by injection or infusion. They reduce inflammation but also suppress the immune system, which puts users at increased risk of infections and may increase the risk of some cancers, including lymphoma and skin cancer, liver failure and tuberculosis.

“Biologics have lots of different effects on the individual. They are efficacious, very helpful,” said Angus Worthing, a rheumatologist who teaches at Georgetown University Medical Center. “They get people back to work, back to their families, and they save lives.”

“We now have the ability to achieve remission of disease in more than half of our patients with rheumatoid arthritis, along with similar levels of response in other inflammatory diseases,” says Eric Ruderman, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who specializes in RA.

But biologics are very pricey, sometimes costing thousands of dollars a month. While insurers typically cover the standard therapies for RA and other diseases after a patient provides the co-pay, the companies often require the patient to pay a percentage of the biologic treatment’s total cost rather than a fixed co-pay. (On March 6 the Food and Drug Administration opened the door to the sale of somewhat cheaper versions of biologics, called biosimilars, approving a biosimilar version of a drug that helps patients receiving chemotherapy fight off infection. Biosimilars are available in other countries and tend to sell for 20 to 30 percent less than the original product.)

Leach, who now lives in Colorado, was shocked by her first month’s bill for the biologic drug: She was responsible for nearly $1,000 a month out of pocket.

She eventually qualified for assistance from the drug company that reimbursed her most of what she had to lay out. But her drug coverage was capped at about $5,000 a year, a number she hit fairly quickly because of the biologics. She recalls one time when her husband went to pick up her eNbrel prescription and was told she had already hit the cap and he would have to shell out $700 to $800.

Some months, she was able to continue on the drug only because her doctor gave her some of his free samples.

Most insurance companies require a prior authorization for biologics, insisting that a patient and doctor show that less expensive drugs have failed. (In my relative’s case, that took several months of using methotrexate despite the severe gastrointestinal distress it caused.) And that authorization must be renewed every few months.

Brendan Buck, vice president of communication for the trade group American’s Health Insurance Plans, said prior authorizations are designed to make sure the patent is responding positively to a drug before it get regularly prescribed. Patients often want the drugs, which are being marketed to them through advertising, he said, but their serious side effects need to be monitored.

“We want to make sure — just because a patient is told by a drugmaker that [a certain drug] is right for them — that it is without negative consequences before renewing their prescription,” Buck said. “We have a shared incentive with the patient to get better as soon as they can. This process is consistent with that.”

Ruderman says it is reasonable to require patients to try methotrexate first because it is cheaper and it may work. But after that, he believes the decision about which drug or biologic to try should be left to the physician and patient and not decided by an insurer, which for a variety of reasons may have selected a biologic for their approved drug list that is not the best one for that specific patient.

In her six years on biologics, Leach said, getting the approval to refill her prescription has almost always been difficult, requiring repeated calls to her insurance company. Recently Leach’s rheumatologist switched her from Enbrel, which had stopped working, to another biologic, Orencia. And the process of obtaining prior authorization for that drug was even more onerous.

“All this system is doing is making me suffer longer, forcing me to fight for my medications when I am feeling my absolute worst. And something like this seems to happen every single time I call the specialty pharmacy,” Leach said.

Andrew Baskin, the quality performance national medical director for Aetna, Leach’s insurer, said her experience was unfortunate and not typical.

“We are a large company,” Baskin said. “Does everything work perfect 100 percent of the time? No. Does it work right 95 percent of the time? Yes. We try our best to avoid that — it’s not good for us or the patient.”

Yet even with the difficulties in coverage, biologics, doctors say, are clearly worth the effort for the right patient.

Kelly Mack, 37, of Washington was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 2. After years on methotrexate, she had some complications; in 2014, her doctor prescribed Enbrel. It took two months before she got authorization from her insurer to use the drug.

“I have severe damage and chronic pain,” she said. “I was excited to start” on a biologic.

Within two weeks, she felt much less pain. “My day-to-day is better,” Mack said. More important, she said, the drug has stopped the disease from getting worse.

Berger is a freelance journalist who writes about health issues. Follow her on Twitter: @Msjournalist.

Press Release: LOCAL BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS URGE PRIVACY PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYERS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES WHO SECURED HEALTH INSURANCE THROUGH THE DC HEALTH LINK: “Request for Personal Information Undermines Employer Privacy”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 16, 2015

CONTACT:Krystal Brumfield kbrumfield; (202) 365.6713

Pamela Nieto pnieto; (202) 340.5157

I-shi Patterson ishi; (202) 787.9863

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LOCAL BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS URGE PRIVACY PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYERS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES WHO SECURED HEALTH INSURANCE THROUGH THE DC HEALTH LINK

"Request for Personal Information Undermines Employer Privacy"

(Washington, DC) The DC Chamber of Commerce (DCCC), Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) and Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) sent a letter to U.S. Senator David Vitter, Chairman, and Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member, of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The letter expressed concerns about the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship seeking information from employer applications Congress completed through DC Health Link.

"We are deeply concerned about the efforts to collect information from the employer application," wrote the President &CEO of the three groups, Harry Wingo of DCCC, Angela Franco of GWHCC and Kathy E. Hollinger of RAMW. "We believe that privacy protections are critical to offering benefits like health insurance. We protect the privacy of our employees and have the same expectation that our information as employers is protected."

The letter also states that privacy laws protect employers and do not distinguish between Congress and small businesses in this matter. The business groups urged the Senators to protect the privacy of employers and their employees in the District of Columbia and across the nation.

In recent weeks, Senator Vitter has called for DC officials to release the names of the human resources staff for the House and Senate who completed the DC Health Link employer application. And despite the Superior Court of the District of Columbia upholding the legality of Congressional enrollment in DC Health Link’s small business marketplace, Senator Vitter continues to claim that House and Senate staff committed fraud by completing the small business employer application because Congress is not a small business.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires Members of Congress and their designated staffs to obtain employer sponsored health insurance through an exchange. Through federal regulations, DC Health Link’s small business marketplace was designated as the exchange through which Congressional members and staff would obtain their health insurance. In a lawsuit challenging Congressional enrollment in the small business market, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia upheld the legality of Congress enrolling in DC Health Link’s small business marketplace.

ABOUT THE BUSINESS GROUPS: Together The DC Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington represent more than 3,200 businesses in the metro DC area.

The DC Chamber of Commerce (DCCC) since 1938 has proudly served a diverse membership of businesses in the city – small, medium and large. The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) is the regional trade association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) supports the economic development of the Washington, DC metropolitan region by facilitating the success of Latino and other minority-owned businesses and the communities they serve. The three business chambers are in partnership with DC Health Link to educate and enroll the District’s small businesses in affordable quality health insurance and are DC Health Link customers as well.

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U.S. attorney leading inquiry of ex-D.C. mayor Gray to step down

U.S. attorney leading inquiry of ex-D.C. mayor Gray to step down

By Spencer S. Hsu, Keith L. Alexander and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 16 at 1:55 PM

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced Monday he will step down April 1 and return to private practice, ending his tenure as the longest-serving chief federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia in nearly four decades.

The Justice Department named Machen’s top assistant, Vincent H. Cohen Jr., as acting U.S. attorney.

In a written statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder warmly praised Machen’s “consummate judgment” and outstanding results in violent crime, national security and public corruption prosecutions.

Machen’s five-year tenure has been defined largely by his office’s prosecution of corruption cases involving District politics. But the top target, former mayor Vincent C. Gray, has not been charged after a years-long investigation that has led to multiple convictions against former campaign aides.

Ronald Machen, center, is seen in 2013 during an event in Northeast Washington. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)

Machen has stood before television cameras, insisting that Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign was corrupt, and prosecutors publicly accused Gray of knowledge of the wrongdoing.

Unless Gray is charged in the next two weeks, Machen will leave office with the case unresolved.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), said without answers in the Gray probe, Machen’s legacy “will be forever marred.”

“It’s one thing to have somebody under investigation and pursue matters diligently, but it’s quite another, I think, to allow a cloud like that to exist for years,” said Cheh, who is also a professor of criminal and constitutional law at George Washington University.

“We looked for his office for some sort of clarity,” she said. “And all we got were unproven allegations, no charges.”

Machen made no mention of the Gray investigation in his announcement, but has told associates in the office — the largest U.S. attorney’s office in the country with more than 300 attorneys — that the inquiry is bigger than any single person. Colleagues said they expected little disruption in the case because Cohen has served as Machen’s point-person in coordinating the investigation.

Robert S. Bennett, Gray’s attorney, declined to comment on Machen’s resignation or the status of the campaign investigation. But he said Monday that he believes the probe should be ended without charges against the mayor.

“I am hopeful that this investigation will finally be closed because the mayor is innocent of all allegations of wrongdoing,” Bennett said.

Machen’s resignation is to take effect at a portentous time in the Gray investigation — exactly one year after Gray was defeated for re-election in a Democratic primary, days after Machen’s office announced a central figure in the case, businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, would plead guilty to conspiracy charges. Prosecutors alleged that Thompson pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into an unreported “shadow campaign” with Gray’s knowledge.

At that time, Machen saying he expected Thompson’s plea to lay bare more about corruption in the mayor’s 2010 campaign and many others. “I promise you, we are not going away,” he said at the time.

Gray’s supporters blamed the Thompson charges as being primarily responsible for the former mayor’s April 1, 2014 loss to rival Muriel E. Bowser, who went on the claim the mayoralty.

In September, Machen’s deputies offered Gray a plea deal through Bennett, who refused the deal. But there have been no outward developments in the investigation since; several figures who have already pleaded guilty to crimes, including Thompson, have had their sentencings repeatedly delayed.

Machen’s move coincides with Holder’s expected departure this week, pending Senate confirmation of his successor, attorney general nominee Loretta B. Lynch. Associates said Machen’s decision was unrelated. Indeed, as early as 2012, Machen has denied rumors that he had expressed interest in returning to private practice.

“Ron has never been deterred by a difficult challenge, nor slowed in his pursuit of a safer, stronger Washington,” said Holder, a longtime mentor who was the District’s U.S. attorney who first hired Machen into the office in 1997. “I see in him now the exceptional qualities that I saw in him then: unassailable integrity, relentless determination, and a passion for law and justice.

Machen, 45, was nominated by President Obama and sworn in in February 2010. He surprised some by staying on for a second term. By April, Machen will have served longer as U.S. attorney in the District than anyone since 1979, when Earl J. Silbert, one of the original prosecutors of the Watergate scandal, stepped down.

Machen played wide receiver as a walk-on at Stanford University. Upon graduation, he contemplated going on scholarship to the University of Michigan’s law school. But his father told him not to settle for the prestigious Big Ten university, and he went to Harvard instead.

Machen worked from 1997 to 2001 as a federal prosecutor in the District, the only federal office that prosecutes local as well as federal crimes. He joined and made partner at the law firm now called WilmerHale, donating more than $4,000 to Obama’s campaigns and helping vet potential vice presidential candidates in 2008.

“After more than five years as United States Attorney, it is time for me to step down,” Machen said in a statement released after he met with senior staff earlier Monday. “I am proud of the work we have done together to achieve justice in the courthouse and to build bonds of trust with the community that we serve.”

Machen’s office pointed to national security and public corruption convictions as its top successes, as well as prosecutions of scores of violent offenders and recovery of $2 billion from financial firms in the wake of the 2009 economic downturn.

Examples in federal court include the conviction of four Blackwater Worldwide guards last fall in the Sept., 2017, shootings that left 31 unarmed Iraqis dead or wounded in Baghdad’s Nisour Square; of Julian Zapata Espinoza, the Mexican drug cartel commander who pleaded guilty in 2013 to ordering an ambush that killed U.S. immigration agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico two years earlier.

But controversy followed the office’s handling of some sensitive cases, including the prosecution of Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI bomb technician and contractor who in 2013 admitted leaking information about a disrupted terrorist bomb plot to the Associated Press.

Also in federal court, a case is pending against Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Among Machen’s most high-profile cases in U.S. Superior Court was the 2010 trial and conviction of Ingmar Guandique in the death of federal intern Chandra Levy. That case is being heard on appeal.

Machen also oversaw the convictions of the five men charged with the 2010 South Capitol Street shootings that left four people dead and six others injured. Six men were convicted in those shootings.

Most recently, he oversaw the plea deal of Modern Orthodox rabbi Barry Freundel who pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism last month. Freundel was charged with secretly videotaping dozens of nude women as they prepared for a ritual bath.

Machen’s office has also led community outreach and youth engagement initiatives, and launched units to address cold cases, potential wrongful convictions and cyber-crimes.

The Conviction Integrity Unit was a response to past mistakes — a string of uncovered DNA exonerations, most of them uncovered by the Public Defender Service, involving flawed FBI forensic work in decades-old cases. Machen’s office also has recently grappled with what it called mistakes by the District’s DNA lab, and moved to clean up cases tainted by an FBI agent working with a D.C. police narcotics task force who allegedly tampered with evidence.

In 2010, Machen created a cold case unit within the department, tasking some of his most senior homicide prosecutors to work on cases that were more than eight years old. The unit has solved 20 cases.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Cycling Advocates Fear D.C. Is Hitting Brakes On Building Infrastructure

Cycling Advocates Fear D.C. Is Hitting Brakes On Building Infrastructure

By: Martin Di Caro
March 16, 2015

WAMU/Martin Di Caro

The 15th Street cycle track is the type of bicycling infrastructure that advocates want D.C. to build more of.

After a banner in year that saw the District add nine miles of bike lanes, 2015 is unfolding on a down note for bicycle commuters.

There are no plans to open a major cycle track in the city this year, and while the District Department of Transportation intends to close some gaps in the existing network of protected or buffered lanes, safety advocates argue failing to grow the network will miss an opportunity to exploit the popularity of bicycling in Washington.

Tuning into the “network”

When Mike DeVoll, 28, moved to Washington four years ago to work as a political consultant, he started commuting by bus. He soon tried Capital Bikeshare, which turned out to be his “gateway drug” to buying his own bike.

But what clinched his decision to commute by bicycle was the completion of the M Street Northwest cycle track, which cuts west through downtown and connects with the 15th Street Northwest cycle track.

He uses both protected lanes daily to get from his home in Logan Circle to Arlington. “It makes it hard not to ride to work because you are protected the whole way,” DeVoll said.

“My girlfriend’s office is moving to right off M Street. She is not a bike for transportation person at all, but she is starting to say she might try it because there is a protected lane there,” he said.

A national survey by the advocacy group PeopleForBikes underscored the importance of feeling safe in encouraging bicycling.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. adults said bicycling was a convenient way of getting around and 53 percent would like to ride more often, the survey said. However, more than half feared being hit by a car and forty-six percent said they would be more likely to ride a bicycle if they were physically separated from traffic.

“One in three Americans rode a bike last year, so the question is why aren’t those people riding bikes for transportation? The number one concern is safety. People just don’t feel safe riding on the street,” said Greg Billing at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), an advocacy group.

DDOT plans

The District Department of Transportation’s bike planning office expects to add seven miles of bike lanes in Washington this year, but only a few blocks are considered part of a protected or buffered cycle track.

DDOT plans to finish the last block of the existing 1st Street Northeast cycle track outside Union Station, add another block to 4th Street Northeast between M St. and Florida Ave. near Union Market, and plug a few other holes in the existing network of protected lanes.

The rest of the projects slated for 2015 may be classified as regular bike lanes: painted white stripes adjacent to vehicular traffic. Washington has about 70 miles of bike lanes, but only five miles are protected from traffic, in some cases by plastic flex posts: 15th Street, L Street, M Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue downtown, 1st Street Northeast, and 6th Street Northeast.

DDOT’s bike planners were not available for an interview, but the agency has pointed to the growth in bike commuting – now about five percent of weekday work trips in D.C. — as a sign its work is paying off. But the riding public — and some legislators — contend the pace of progress is too slow.

“If you’re really going to have a bike culture here, and if you are going to invite people who are otherwise not cyclists, you really need to have a connected network,” said Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who commutes by bike.

“I don’t think they are moving fast enough. As I come down Connecticut Avenue, I have no protection. It is a nightmare, especially during rush hour. And I breathe a big sigh of relief when I get over to a bike lane or a cycle track,” she added.

WABA’s Billing said DDOT’s internal structure slows down project delivery.

“Many of the big projects for biking are handled by a single team of folks, and they are hard-working employees who have made an extraordinary effort to make biking what it is in the city, but we need the entire agency focused on project delivery,” he said.

“We have a bike planning team, but we don’t have a bike engineering team. We don’t have a bike construction team,” Billing added. “Projects need to quickly move out of planning into project management and into contracting with the engineers being involved.”

As part of its MoveDC proposal, DDOT is planning to build a large network of cycle tracks all over Washington, but at the current pace it would take years, even decades, to finish.

Economic benefits

Bike commuters are not alone in wanting better, safer infrastructure. The business community is with them.

“We know from an employer and an employee point of view, in terms of attracting the kinds of workers you want, and retaining them, bicycling comes up more and more often,” said Ellen Jones, director of infrastructure and sustainability at the Downtown Business Improvement District, who said off-street bike parking is becoming a common request.

Retailers and restaurants also understand the more bikes on the street, the more business they will receive, said Jones, who once worked in bike advocacy.

“We know it is very important in order to meet an ever-increasing need for travel in downtown, the only way to we are going to meet that demand is through high-capacity modes of transportation: bicycling, walking, transit. We have to be able to accommodate and give priority to those high-capacity modes or we are going to become gridlocked.”

Mayor Bowser and Howard University Announce Technology and Innovation Partnership

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mayor Bowser and Howard University Announce Technology and Innovation Partnership

The partnership creates the District’s first venture capital hub for start-ups and emerging companies.

Today at Howard University, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a partnership to establish DC’s first Technology and Innovation Hub which will expand the District’s growing technology and innovation ecosystem. Mayor Bowser was joined by Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick.

The District’s partnership with Howard University will focus on leveraging University resources for venture capital firms to support medium to late-stage technology and innovation startups.

“Today, we are taking a major step towards building an ecosystem that will make DC a world-wide hub for technology and innovation,” said Mayor Bowser. “This plan will bolster efforts to support our growing technology and innovation sectors by addressing the needs of startups and entrepreneurs in the District. I look forward to working with Howard University to foster more innovation, inclusion and equity throughout the community.”

The partnership will include an economic investment from the District to Howard University to finance the agreement. Howard University will offer up to 10,000 sq. ft. of office space on its campus in Northwest DC to house the tech hub. Occupancy is targeted for this year.

“Throughout our 148-year history, Howard University has served as the starting point for countless entrepreneurs, innovators, and visionaries looking to make a positive impact in their local community, our nation, and the world,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University. We’re proud of that legacy and recognize the urgent need to serve as a starting point for the next generation of technology and innovation leaders – particularly, men and women of color, too often overlooked when opportunities like this become available.”

Federal City Council CEO and former DC Mayor Anthony Williams added, "With this announcement, Mayor Bowser is taking a major step forward in supporting the District’s tech and innovative sector. We recognize that access to capital is one of the biggest hurdles for the growth of DC startups. This innovative partnership with Howard University addresses that vital need while promoting DC’s fastest growing industry and providing greater job opportunities for DC residents."

To further demonstrate the District’s commitment to the tech sector, Mayor Bowser also announced that the Connect.DC Digital Inclusion Initiative is partnering with Code for Progress to provide training and mentorship to young residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8. Code for Progress fellowships are year-long programs, where participants are trained in coding and human centered design, and are coached by talented local professionals.

Mayor Bowser also announced the appointments of Acting Chief Technology Officer Tegene Baharu and CapStat Director Tony Saudek.

Mr. Baharu currently serves as Deputy Chief Technology Officer at OCTO. Currently Mr. Baharu’s oversees all of the District’s Network Operations, Citywide IT Security Operations, Telecom Governance, and DC-Net. Mr. Baharu’s operations serve 96 District agencies and several Federal Entities leveraging his technology shared services model.

Mr. Saudek previously served as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He joined the VA in August 2013 to manage the VBA Stat process focused on eliminating the backlog of Veterans Benefits. At the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Mr. Saudek led a cultural transformation toward data-driven management geared toward maximizing impact on mission. Mr. Saudek’s work contributed to falling recidivism, enhanced life outcomes for court-involved youth, and national recognition for innovation in public safety.

DC HBX: Special Enrollment Offered to Uninsured District Residents Facing IRS Tax Penalties

Health Benefit Exchange Authority

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Special Enrollment Offered to Uninsured District Residents Facing IRS Tax Penalties

Individuals and families can sign up from March 15 through April 30, 2015.

Yesterday, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (HBX) adopted a unanimous recommendation from its Standing Advisory Board to allow a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for District residents who may be subject to a federal tax penalty because they did not have health insurance. These District residents may be learning about the penalty for the first time when they file their 2014 federal tax returns.

This Special Enrollment Period starts March 15, 2015, and ends on April 30, 2015. To qualify, a resident must attest that when the person filed their 2014 federal tax return, the taxpayer paid a tax penalty to the IRS for not having health coverage in 2014. A person can also qualify if when preparing the 2014 federal taxes the taxpayer first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the tax penalty after open enrollment ended on February 15, 2015. With this new SEP, even though open enrolled ended, a qualified person can shop and enroll in affordable health insurance through the District’s on-line marketplace called DC Health Link.

“As the tax filing deadline approaches, some District residents are realizing that they have to pay a tax penalty to the IRS for not having health coverage last year,” said Diane C. Lewis, M.P.A., chair of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority Executive Board. “We want to make sure that District residents have an opportunity to avoid paying tax penalties to the IRS, which is why we will be offering a special enrollment period for residents to enroll in affordable, quality health insurance.”

Individuals who did not have health coverage in 2014 are required to pay a tax penalty to the IRS. The penalty is 1% of gross household income over the federal income tax filing threshold (the minimum amount of gross income an individual or family must make to be required to file a tax return) or $95 per individual—whichever is greater. For 2015, the penalty increases to $325 per individual, or 2% of gross household income over the tax filing threshold—whichever is greater.

Uninsured District residents who do not enroll during this Special Enrollment Period and do not qualify for other SEPs will not be able to sign up for coverage until the 2016 Open Enrollment Period, which starts November 1, 2015. These residents may be subject to a federal tax penalty when they file their 2015 federal income taxes. Residents who are eligible for Medicaid can enroll throughout the year.

Background

The Affordable Care Act provides individuals, families, and small businesses in the District of Columbia with affordable options for quality health insurance through a new online health insurance marketplace called DC Health Link. For 2015, there are 31 different private health insurance options (this includes 3 catastrophic plans) from Aetna, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Kaiser Permanente for individuals and families. There are 192 private health insurance options for small businesses from Aetna, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, and United Healthcare. Residents can also apply for public insurance called Medicaid. DC Health Link is endorsed by the DC Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, and the National Association of Health Underwriters.

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