As part of my Political Research class, I, along with my partner for the project Kevin Weil, looked at stop-and-frisk policing in Washington D.C. We were selected to present our research at the Lab @ DC, a division of the Mayor’s office. Of the work below, Kevin Weil did most of the background research and I did most of the data analysis and concluding. Attached immediately below is the PDF printout of our report, the PDF printout of the code I wrote, and the presentation we gave to the Lab @ DC.
Where Does the Issue Lie? Stop-and-Frisk Policing in Washington D.C.
An Analysis of Washington D.C.’s Stop-and-Frisk Policing Practices
Dominic Gatti and Kevin Weil
GOVT 310: Introduction to Political Research
Dr. Ryan Moore
ABSTRACT: Terry stops, or stop-and-frisk policing, is a controversial method used by police officers that has been extensively researched. This project seeks to supplement research that strongly establishes the disproportionate effects of the practice on minority demographics, specifically Black communities. Ultimately, our research comes to replicate these findings within Washington D.C. However, after introducing ShotSpotter data provided by the MPD, this study finds that D.C. MPD patrols areas that have a high frequency of potentially violent crime. Under the assumption that the frequency of gunshots has a relationship to violent crime, our study concludes that, overall, MPD methods of policing are not discriminatory but that the way in which MPD practices stop-and-frisk is individually discriminatory to Black residents.
KEYWORDS: Police Stops; Racial Bias; Criminology; Terry Stops; Stop-and-Frisk.
In the 1990s, criminal justice became a prominent national issue as rising crime rates concerned politicians and lawmakers. Fearing being labeled as “soft on crime,” policymakers endeavored to craft laws that would reflect tough legal stances that enforced the rule of law. A definitive and controversial policing method of this time, Terry stops (commonly known as “stop-and-frisk” policing) emerged as a practice that attempted to curtail the rising national crime rates. The practice adopted temporary detention and investigation of suspects based on reasonable suspicion rather than the perpetration of a crime or a warrant.
The legality of stop-and-frisk was affirmed in the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio (1968), which established the authority of police officers to stop a suspect and search for weapons and contraband including narcotics, drug paraphernalia, and other objects deemed reasonably suspicious. Though suspects may be stopped for one reason, any incriminating contraband found otherwise can be used to against the suspect.
Stop-and-frisk programs are widely understood as controversial. Despite the practice being constitutional since 1968, stop-and-frisk programs recently gained prominence under New York City Mayor Giuliani’s administration. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) used stop-and-frisk practices under the validation of the broken windows theory, a criminological theory that suggests cleaning up visible signs of petty crime like loitering, vandalism, and prostitution will ultimately prevent serious crimes. Police officers in New York City focused primarily on crime-prone areas, particularly neighborhoods like the Bronx and Harlem. NYPD received aggressive responses from organized civil liberty groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and The Bronx Defenders regarding their aggressive policing techniques. These groups alleged that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program was inherently discriminatory and filed a class action suit in federal court, Floyd v. City of New York (2013).
Floyd v. City of New York ruled that the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional due to its discriminatory practices. However, this ruling did not overrule the constitutionality of Terry stops. In fact, Mayor Giuliani’s successor Michael Bloomberg defended the legality of the practice, citing its effectiveness and ultimately decided appeal Floyd. This appeal was subsequently dropped by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 who has disavowed and mostly eliminated the use of stop-and-frisk.
Despite the controversy over New York City’s stop-and frisk-program, Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) implements its own policing program with its own stop-and-frisk practices. The MPD’s methods, however, have not been extensively studied as the NYPD’s, only recently releasing data in early 2018.
Prior Studies Conducted on Stop-and-Frisk
Given the controversial nature of stop-and-frisk practices, there have been several studies that measure its effect on communities and crime rates. The general consensus among these studies find that stop-and-frisk practices disproportionately affects minority residents as opposed to White residents. Arguments have been made that defend the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk as a practice that is employed proportionately to racial composition. These assumptions were taken into account in a 2007 study published in the Journal for American Statistical Association published by Gelman, Fagan, and Kiss. This study analyzes the practices of the NYPD’s pedestrian stops (as opposed to traffic stops) through disaggregating police stops by precinct to measure stop rates by racial and ethnic groups, controlling for race-specific crimes. The study, moreover, used a hierarchical model to illustrate precinct variability, ultimately finding after controlling for these variables, Black and Hispanic individuals were stopped more frequently than Whites. Essentially, this study took raw data provided by the NYPD on their policing methods that broadly described Black and Hispanic residents as being more frequently stopped than White residents. After controlling for demographic proportions, Gelman et al. were able to confirm this observation, finding that Black and Hispanic individuals were stopped twice as often as White individuals; alternatively, the study also found that White and Hispanic individuals were stopped more frequently than Blacks for nonviolent issues relating to property or drugs.
Our report will be on Washington D.C.’s MPD stop-and-frisk practices, which will complement the research completed by August Warren, Mahkah Wu, and Mika Weinstein. These researchers recently published a statistical study that measures the racial inequity of D.C.’s stop-and-frisk practices. Warren, Wu, and Weinstein come to find D.C. police practices reflect similar findings to the ASA study. According to this study, Black individuals were the target of 80% of police stops from 2010 to 2017. Further, it finds a strong linear relationship between a neighborhoods average crime rate and the measured stop-and-frisk incidents. Rather than examining the specific reasons that certain individuals were stopped (which our own research accommodates for), this study examines the breakdown by D.C. wards, neighborhoods, Police Service Areas. These results are also complemented by D.C. Census tract data.
Warren, Wu, and Weinstein contributed to the extensive research on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program in applying their models to Washington D.C. There has not, however, been extensive studies that have analyzed MPD’s stop-and-frisk practices beyond this study. More research on the MPD’s methods is necessary as they show no sign in limiting its use of the practice. The data needed to complete this has recently been provided under the D.C. council’s Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 or the NEAR Act.
Our research will explore the following questions: (1) is Washington D.C.’s MPD stop-and-frisk practices inherently discriminatory against Black residents and (2) is D.C.’s MPD patrolling areas based off of racial composition or off of criminal activity?
Though it has been overwhelmingly established that stop-and-frisk practices are somewhat discriminatory towards minority demographics, our research seeks to add another dimension with these findings. Further, this study uses different data than what has been used in the study conducted by Warren, Wu, and Weinstein. The specifics of this data set will be explored in the “Data” section of this report. What is unique about our study is our inclusion of “ShotSpotter” data from MPD’s database which allows us to more accurately illustrate the relationship between racial demographics and police activity via recorded gunshots by D.C. MPD.
Stop-and-Frisk and MPD Data
Our study focuses on three main data sets and one SHP file containing geographic information. Each of these raw data files can be found on D.C.’s Open Data database on the city’s government website. The three data files we used were Stop_and_Frisk_Contact, Stop_and_Frisk_Incident, and Shot_Spotter_Gun_Shots, respectively assigned as “contact,” “incident,” and “shot.” Further, we used Police_Service_Areas.shp for our geographical analysis and some demographic data. This allowed our findings to be contextualized by not only MPD district, but also more accurately Police Service Area.
The data set labeled “contact” contains the information of individuals who were approached for a stopped-and-frisk in Washington D.C. The data set holds 13 variables and spans from 2013 to 2016. Our study focused primarily on the race of individual reports and the “reason for stop” for each stop-and-frisk interaction recorded. The reasons are listed as follows: Call for Service, Community Policing, Equipment Violation, Juvenile Contact, Moving Violation, Pre-existing Knowledge, Prostitution-free Zone, Registration Violations, Special Detail Checkpoint, Special Investigation, Suspicious activity, Suspicious persons, Suspicious vehicles, Truancy/Curfew, or Other. Further, we added a variable called “Black” to the data frame in order to compare the proportion of people stopped who were Black within each “reason-for-stop” level. In total, there were 7,837 reported stop-and-frisks in this data set, with 83% of the observations being Black individuals.
The data set labeled “incident” contains reports from 2010 to 2016. It contains 13 variables, but describes specific details regarding reported stop-and-frisk incidents specifically race: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian Or Other Pacific Islander, White, or Unknown. This data set contained 23,325 reported stop-and-frisk incidents with 82% of the observations being Black individuals. What is unique about this data set is that it also included the Police Service Areas in which these stop-and-frisk incidents had taken place. We used the frequency of stop-and-frisk incidents within each of the Police Service Areas in conjunction with a manipulation of the “shot” data to draw conclusions about how MPD was choosing to patrol areas.
Figure 1: This bar graph illustrates the proportion of stop-and-frisk reports per Police District (100-700) and by Police Service (1-9 per every 100). Police Service Area 2 (200-209) reports the least amount of stop-and-frisks (with the exception of the National Mall) and includes most of Northwest D.C., notably Georgetown, Glover Park, Tenleytown, and Kalorama. Alternatively, Police Service Area 6 (600-609) reports the highest stop-and-frisk rates in Washington D.C.. It includes the Southeast region east of the Anacostia river, namely Fort DuPont, Lincoln Heights, Marshall Heights, and Deanwood. Police Service Areas 1, 3, and 7 similarly yield high frequency of stop-and-frisks of Black residents, spanning from regions on along the Southeast water edge of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers as well as neighborhoods around U Street, Shaw, and Mount Vernon.
The data provided by the MPD that reports detected gunshots contains the latitudinal and longitudinal location of where a potential gunshot was reported, as well as the time it was recorded, and whether it was a single gunshot, multiple gunshots, or a noise accredited to either a single gunshot or the explosion of a firecracker. Overall, there are 28,343 reports. This data is used in this study to complement the stop-and-frisk reports in an attempt to show a relationship between stop-and-frisk frequency, race/ethnicity of the individual stopped, as well as the potential for a Police Service Area to be perceived as crime-prone.
Methods and Models
The first statistical analysis we did was looking at the proportion of Black people in each reason-for-stop group. We executed this by finding the proportion of Black individuals in each reason-for-stop group, calculating the standard error, and from there the 95% confidence interval. Using a looping function, we printed the upper and lower limits for each reason-for-stop. Our null hypothesis was that the proportion of Black individuals in each reason-for-stop group would be .471, the proportion of Blacks in the District as a whole. This null hypothesis asserted that people would be stopped at the same proportion that each racial group existed in D.C. If this were to be true there would be no discrimination among the reasons-for-stop, basically a random sample of D.C. for each reason.
To complete our second analysis we looked at the proportions of shots recorded and stop-and-frisk incidents recorded in each district. We ran two linear regressions. First, of the difference between the proportion of shots recorded in a PSA and the proportion of stop-and-frisk incidents in that PSA on the proportion of population who was Black. Our null hypothesis was that the difference between the proportions of shots recorded and incidents recorded would not be correlated by proportion of Black residents, meaning stop-and-frisk targeting was not influenced by the proportion of Black residents. Second, the frequency of stop-and-frisk incidents on the proportion of population who was Black. Our null hypothesis was that the there would be no correlation between proportion of Black residents and the proportion of stop-and-frisk incidents that occured in that PSA.
The true population of Black residents in Washington D.C. is about 47.1% (2017). When looking at the confidence intervals for each of the reasons-for-stop we find that only one contains that 47.1% true proportion. With the exception of “Special Detail Checkpoint,” Figure 2 (below) displays that individual MPD stop-and-frisks disproportionately affect Black individuals as 15 of the 16 of the reasons provided do not, with a 95% confidence, include the true proportion of Black residents. We reject the null hypothesis and assert that the reason-for-stop shows discriminatory targeting of individuals for Terry stops. This findings support the general findings the ASA report and local results from the GitHub blog post that minorities are disportionately targeted by stop-and-frisk practices.
Figure 2: Illustrated above are confidence intervals detailing the reason for a reported MPD stop-and-frisk of a Black individual.
Examining our first linear regression, the difference between shots and incidents on proportion of Black population which is Black, we find a confidence interval that does not contain zero (0.028, 0.053) and a that the shots increases per population by a rate of about .04. We reject the null hypothesis in favor of the alternative: there is a correlation between the proportion of Black residents and the difference in stop-and-frisks. However the direction of that correlation surprised us. Because we calculated our difference using [shots – incidents], the positive correlation implies that as the proportion of Black residents increased, there were was a higher proportion of shots than the proportion of incident.
Examining our second linear regression, the frequency of stop-and-frisk incidents on the proportion of population who was Black, we find that we fail to reject a null hypothesis and conclude that there is be no correlation between proportion of Black residents and the proportion of stop-and-frisk incidents that occured in that PSA. Our confidence interval (-44.77, 301.22) contains zero.
Figure 3 and 4: Illustrated above are linear regression tests. Figure 3 describes the relationship between the difference between gunshots reporting and stop-and-frisk incident that targeted Black individuals and the proportion of Black individuals per PSA. Figure 4 describes the frequency of stop-and-frisk incidents involving Black individuals and the proportion of Black residents per PSA.
Limitations of Data and Assumptions
The three largest limitations of our data are differences in time frames among our data sets, the uncertainty of possibile of firecrackers being mistaken for gunshots in our ShotSpotter data, and the discretionary nature of reporting.
First, our three main data frames – contact, incidents, and shots – all spanned different time ranges. As already noted in the previous section, the incident data reports from January 1st of 2010 to December 31st of 2016 while the contact data reports stop-and-frisks from January 1st of 2013 to November 9th of 2016. Moreover, the ShotSpotter data reports from January 1st of 2014 to December 31st of 2017. This study also assumes that MPD automatically recording a gunshot and does not influence the frequency and distribution of those gunshots. The proportions used to compare the two statistics, therefore, is limited only by the size of the smaller sample, which has 22,952 observations. Further, our report also assumes that the frequency of gunshots has a relationship to the crime rate of a given Police Service Area. This being said, critiques concerning changes in policing practices and changes in the demographic makeup of areas between 2010 and 2014 are legitimate.
Second, the ShotSpotter data frame has three levels: “Multiple_Gunshots”, “Single_Gunshot”, and “Gunshot_or_Firecracker”. There is a chance that some of the observations were not actual gunshots; however, this study is comfortable interpreting an ambiguous report within the ShotSpotter data as a gunshot because it makes up only 8% of the data and would be reasonably interpreted by a police officer as a possible gunshot and worthy of investigation.
Lastly, our analysis assumes that all police reporting procedures were properly followed. There is always the possibility of bias in self reported data. Given that this reporting is legally mandated, we assume that is is far less biased than typical self-reported data but we acknowledge that an individual officer could neglect to report an incident/contact or report the reason-for-stop untruthfully.
Conclusion and Recommendations to Policymakers
Our findings do not entirely reflect the conclusions drawn in the ASA and Github reports. The raw MPD data shows that stop-and-frisk practices in Washington D.C. disproportionately affecting Black individuals, specifically in neighborhoods described in the Census tract as having a high projection of Black residents. Yet our findings suggest that there is discrimination in the reasoning for conducting a Terry stop, but MPD is targeting PSAs because they have higher proportions gunshots recorded rather than higher proportions of Black residents. We draw that conclusion that individual officers are choosing to conduct Terry stops in a discriminatory manner, but the Department as a whole does not target communities with higher proportion of Black residents.
Ultimately, these figures should be used by D.C. lawmakers as an evaluative reference to address bias within the Department. This study serves not to measure the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk practices, but to contribute to the analytical discussion over the ethical methods of policing. Stop-and-frisk will conceivably remain a controversial practice due to its very nature of endorsing police officer discretion. However, studies that continue to replicate and supplement the information that has already been research will contribute more information to policy makers. This, in turn, will create equally effective and increasingly just methods of policing – not only in Washington D.C. but any city in the United States.
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your own text
I wrote this paper for my class on the United States Congress. In it, I explore biennial budgeting and despite my initial support, I find it too weak to stand behind. Attached immediately below is the PDF version of the essay.
Congress & Legislative Behavior (GOVT – 321)
November 30th, 2018
A Consideration of Biennial Budgeting
Biennial budgeting is a commonly proposed solution to Congress’ current subverted and broken budgeting/appropriating process. The main change biennial budgeting would implement if enacted would be that Congress would only pass one budget per Congress, as opposed to the current two. There are three main variations of biennial budgeting: split session, stretch, and hybrid. Split session would have lawmakers pass one budget bill and one set of appropriations bills in the first year of the Congress and it would provide funding for two years while the second session would be focused on oversight. Stretch would have the current annual process stretched out over a two-year period and have the budget/appropriations provide for the following two years. The hybrid model discussed in this paper would use a single budget, as is in the split session model, and annual appropriation bills, as is in the current process. In order to properly consider biennial budgeting, one must recognize the goals of any Congressional budgeting reform should be: (1) more thoughtful consideration of each expenditure Congress makes, (2) increased meaningful oversight of programs that Congress authorized and appropriated for, and (3) a significant reduction or elimination of threatened and realized government shutdowns. After weighing each method, the hybrid biennial budgeting turns out to be the best of the three methods. Re-examining it against the stated goals of Congressional budgeting reform and finds that hybrid biennial budgeting does not meet those goals.
On June 12th, 1974 the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 (also known as the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 or CBA) went into effect over President Nixon’s veto (Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, 1974). This legislation formalized Congressional budgeting and laid out the timeline and process by which the federal government would be funded. Since the enactment of the CBA, Congress has passed all necessary appropriations bills in the established time frame and usually passes less than one-third of the bills on time (DeSilver, 2018). This says nothing of the all-night budget battles, toxic messaging, evasive parliamentary procedures, and aggressive use of reconciliation which mar yearly budget and appropriation legislation; it is widely agreed that the Congressional budgeting system is broken. One periodically popular solution to the mess that is modern Congressional budgeting is biennial budgeting (Katz, 2018). Broadly speaking, biennial budgeting is a proposal that would amend the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 so that Congress would pass budget/appropriations bills that would fund the government for two years rather than one, meaning lawmakers would pass only one budget per Congress.
Before an in-depth consideration of biennial budgeting, it is important to first determine what is desired in a new budgeting process. Without goals, it is impossible to decide on the advisability of a new process. The three ‘must-haves’ in a new Congressional budgeting procedure are (a) more thoughtful consideration of each expenditure Congress makes, (b) increased meaningful oversight of programs that Congress authorized and appropriated for, and (c) significantly reduce or elimination of threatened and realized government shutdowns due to budget standoffs. These three goals provide for a more efficient government and some recovery of power in the legislative body through oversight of executive branch agencies. In addition to the ‘must-haves’, it would be worthwhile for a new budgeting procedure to provide for the consideration of long-term issues, specifically tax expenditures, mandatory spending, and debt ceiling induced shutdown or scares. Though they are not necessarily part of the ‘normal’ scope of budgeting in Congress, addressing the issues surrounding the aforementioned policies would provide for a more thoughtful and stable future for the country (Domenici & Rivlin, 2015).
Biennial budgeting proposals come in three main forms: split session, stretch, and hybrid. Though there are no technical definitions associated with each version, they propose to make budgeting a two-year process in very different ways. The first, split session biennial budgeting, is the most popular based on proposals that have made it to the House and Senate floor. This method would mandate that the budget process be changed to provide funds for two years rather than one, having budgets be considered only in odd-numbered (non-election) years and reserving the even-numbered (election) years for oversight of executive branch agencies by their authorizing and appropriating committees. To accomplish this, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 would need to be amended to change any mention of ‘annual’ to ‘biennial’ and prohibit appropriations that do not extend authority/funds beyond a single year (unless the program is due to expire after a single year) (Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, 2017). Further amendments would need to be included to better define when and how supplemental/emergency appropriations could be used.
The second, stretch biennial budgeting, is not widely promoted but represents an important school of thought behind the push for biennial budgeting. This method would simply extend (stretch) the deadlines of the current budget process and have the amounts appropriated extend for two years after their passage (Burgat, 2018). This proposal speaks to the idea that Congresspeople simply do not have enough time to pass budgets and appropriations in the current timeframe, in large part due to the increased complexity of today’s federal expenditures. Stretch biennial budgeting is unrealistic because new Congresses (and every four years, Presidents) would be forced to operate on the previous Congress’ budget and appropriations until October of their second session. To implement stretch biennial budgeting, Congress would amend the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to reflect a two-year version of the current deadline structure with the final appropriations signed into law by October 1st of the second session of each Congress. Again, additional amendments would have to be included to better define when and how supplemental/emergency appropriations could be passed.
The third form, hybrid biennial budgeting, has no singular form but generally combines different parts of split session and stretch biennial budgeting as well as aspects of the current budget system. For the purposes of this paper, hybrid biennial budgeting will be defined as a method of Congressional budgeting where Congress passes a budget resolution containing funding for two years (similar to the split session method) and passes appropriations bills annually (mirroring current budget process) (Pelosi, 2018). To implement this method Congress would have to amend the CBA to instruct Congresspeople to pass a budget which provides two years of funding and can only be passed in the first session of that Congress. For all three methods additional amendments would have to be made to the United States code, but none as concentrated as the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
Those who advocate biennial budgeting herald a number of wonderful changes to legislative behavior. For all three methods, proponents claim that federal agencies would be better able to predict their budgets and make more efficient choices as a result, lawmakers would have more time to devote to other meaningful legislation and engage in additional oversight, lawmakers would also be better able to address long-term spending changes outside of election years and with a more foresighted vision (Young, 2018). Proponents also point to the fact that Congress currently operates on two-year budgets due to the politics and recent statutory regulations on spending as a reason to enact biennial budgeting (Greenstein & Horney, 2006). Specific benefits for each method are touted by supporters; split session would increase time for oversight, decrease the number of times the government could get shut down, and free the budget process from the oncoming elections in the second session (Katz, 2018). Stretch would give lawmakers more time to consider spending choices and give new Congressmembers more time to familiarize themselves with the complex process. A hybrid model would limit the major budget battles to only once per Congress while keeping appropriators in close control of department’s budgets and give executive department leaders a more stable forecast while keeping them accountable to Congress.
Opponents of biennial budgeting disagree that implementing any of these methods would be an improvement on the current system. Addressing each individually, opponents argue that split session would (a) lead to gross overuse of emergency/supplemental appropriating in the second session due to changing conditions in the economy and political opportunism (Boccia, 2018), (b) budget/appropriations fights would be twice as intense as they currently are and lawmakers would be less willing to compromise due to the higher stakes (Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, 2013), and (c) Congressional oversight would suffer from appropriators not having immediate financial punitive measures for misbehaving executive departments (Boccia, 2018). Opponents also fear that lawmakers would not take the second session to actually conduct additional oversight, rather lawmakers would ignore larger budgetary issues in ‘off’ years (Dody, 2018). For the stretch method, opponents of biennial budgeting point out that new Congresses and Presidents would have to operate on budgets set by previous administrations/Congresses which means they would not be able to quickly implement the programs/positions they were elected on (GAO, 1984). Additionally, opponents contend that when lawmakers are not sitting during the majority of the implementation of their budgets they would act less responsibly and would decline to address ‘tough questions’ during the appropriation process due to it being an election year. Looking at the hybrid method, opponents point out that much like the split session method, the budget fight would be much more intense, and lawmakers would be less willing to compromise due to the higher stakes and such a fight could crowd out meaningful appropriation discussion during the first session.
Holistically, opponents of biennial budgeting argue that implementing any method of biennial budgeting would have a negative impact on the budgeting/appropriations process because economic and tax forecasts, off which dollar amounts are determined, will be less accurate at this increased range (Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, 2009), lawmakers would not be able to appropriately respond to large changes in the economy (wars, crashes, booms, or recessions) quickly, and Congresspeople would generally have fewer opportunities to debate fiscal concerns.
Evaluating the arguments made by proponents and opponents of biennial budgeting, a few likely outcomes emerge from each method. Split session, though it is the most popular, would likely not make a significant positive change in the budgeting/appropriations process. Pushing the troubled budgeting process into a single session will only intensify the already red-hot fights. The second session would leave more time for oversight but considering the pressing time demands each Congressperson faces, it is more than likely that the extra time allotted will be spent elsewhere. Thinking to the feasibility of enacting split session biennial budgeting, the change would take a significant amount of power away from the appropriators, a group of legislators who would surely fight the change to keep their influence. The stretch method is a non-starter on the fact that new Congresses and Presidents would have to wait over a year to begin to implement their promised budget and programs through the ‘normal’ process. A hybrid method would have the best chance of making a positive impact on the budgeting process. Changing the procedure to a single budget resolution shows a more long-term outlook and enables upper-level department officials the ability to make more farsighted plans while appropriators still retain their authority to serve as a check on executive agencies year-to-year. The answers to how reconciliation would be structured and how intense biennial budget battles would be vary depending on the character of the Congress. Considering the 115th Congress’ behavior, reconciliation would be used aggressively and the battles surrounding the passage would be incredibly destructive. Future Congresses may be more amiable and work better in this method, but such a Congress is not currently foreseeable.
Given the previously discussed strengths and weaknesses of the three biennial budgeting methods, hybrid biennial budgeting is the best contender. Therefore, it shall be assessed against the budgeting reform goals. Turning first to the desire for more thoughtful consideration, biennial budgeting confines a larger budgetary decision into the current timeframe and keeps the already contentious appropriations decisions in their current timeframe. This realization that more work is being forced into the current timeframe means there would be less consideration per expenditure decision rather than more. As previously stated, the extensive demands on Congresspeople’s time cast doubt on the idea that this liberated time would be used for additional oversite hearings as its intended purpose. Moreover, the idea that strictly more hearings are necessarily a better use of lawmaker’s time is questionable. There are already over 5 non-appropriation hearings a day on the average in-session day (Fichtner, Kuck, and Michel, 2016) and increasing their number without diving into the efficacy and efficiency of those hearings would be unwise. Hybrid biennial budgeting could be pushed against and over set deadlines, exactly like the current system is; Congress’ explicit decision to ignore its own rules is what leads to shutdowns and delays, and the same could be done with any biennial budget proposal. Only punitive measures – like elimination of all recess until a budget/appropriation is passed – would hold Congress to the deadline.
No biennial budgeting method would achieve the goals of budgeting reform, as explained above, nor would it address larger fiscal concerns. Biennial budgeting does not incentivize consideration of tax expenditures or mandatory spending – realistically it dis-incentivizes it. Proponents of biennial budgeting contend that the second session could be used to tackle these long-term issues, but their reasoning for putting budgeting/appropriations in the first session explains precisely why long-term fiscal problem solving would not take place in the ‘off’ year: it would be election time. Even more politically painful than regular budgeting/appropriating is making changes to two of the most popular government programs – Social Security and Medicare. To advocate for the changes that the two programs will ultimately need is political suicide, and putting it front and center in an election year is unthinkable. Additionally, reviewing tax expenditures is just as unpopular with the business community as reforming entitlements is with the public – not something a lawmaker up for reelection would be interested in. Looking finally at avoiding running into debt ceilings, biennial budgeting does not necessarily deal with this issue. Proponents argue that crafting a two-year budget would give lawmakers a more far-ranging view of the country’s fiscal policy, but the opposite could also turn out to be true and legislators less exposed to the budget spend less time addressing its problems.
Congress is certainly in need of budgeting/appropriations reform, and taking a look at the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act of 1974 is the way to begin. However, the answer should not be biennial budgeting in any of its current forms. Biennial budgeting would not achieve any of the goals or desires of a reformed budgeting process. The reform needed must contain provisions that virtually guarantee more genuine consideration of expenditures, more meaningful oversight, and fewer threatened and realized government shutdowns. The reform should also contain measures that ensure lawmakers confront the long-term fiscal issues which currently face the United States. Budgetary reform is necessary, but biennial budgeting is not the answer.
1984 GAO Report on Biennial Budgeting, 1984
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During my time at the United Planning Organization, I recognized room for improvement in their methods for data collection so I took it upon myself to find a solution. Below is what I proposed to the UPO staff in April of 2018. Immediately below is the original PDF proposal.
Update Proposal – Moving UPO to the Digital Age
Digitize UPO’s Shelter Transit Data Collection
The UPO Shelter Transit office collects pick-up information on paper sheets which are piled up in the office, taking up space and presenting a massive roadblock to anyone trying to research or analyze the Shelter Transit office’s activities. If this data collection were digitized it would greatly increase the efficiency and usability of this data. It would also eliminate a large amount of paper usage, which is a cost and environmental liability. This problem has been approached before, but the cost of creating a system, buying hardware and software killed that conversation. I propose a solution that achieves close to the same result with a much smaller overhead cost.
I propose using Android tablets (specifically an Asus – ZenPad 8.0) equipped with Google Drive to collect data in vans, then once back office download the Google Sheets to UPO’s existing Excel storage. This would create an accessible library of all Shelter Transit data with less labor than the paper system and a relatively low overhead cost.
|Item||Cost Per Item||Cost for Fleet|
|Case for Tablet||$22||$264|
|Car Charging Converter||$8||$96|
|Extra Charging Cable||$8 (pack of 3)||$32|
Each van operator would carry the tablet on their drives, keeping the tablet charged with the car chargers. When they would usually record using paper, they would instead enter the information on a Google Sheet. When they returned from their trip they would plug the tablet into the charger and the tablet would automatically connect to UPO Wi-Fi and automatically upload the information to the Google drive system. Once a week (or once a day) a person in the office (presumably the secretary) would download the Google Sheet to the existing excel system and delete the data off the Google Drive (a procedure that would take less than 6 minutes). All data would be stored in UPO systems with no additional software costs.
The cost of printing the transit logs would be eliminated, issues with reading handwriting would no longer be a problem, and reporting information would be done automatically. Future employees/interns could efficiently analyze the data to identify trends that would aid UPO’s mission and increase the effectiveness of UPO’s efforts.
*Possibility of this price going down through at-cost sellers and charitable donations
York Community High School Commencement Address, 2017
Brief – I delivered my high school’s commencement address in May of 2017. I focused on the importance of common ground and listening as students who were going into a highly polarized world. A video recording of the speech can be found here. The transcript is below.
Hello, my name is Dominic Gatti and I would like to start off by saying thank you to all those who enabled me to be speaking up here today. It is an honor to stand before such an accomplished group of students.
This year on speech team I talked about how to find common ground. My speech was structured as an 8-minute presentation chock full of sources and citations, with a full circle ending, and if you weren’t in the event, it was honestly quite boring. I enjoyed giving the speech but I thought that once the season ended in mid-February, I would be done. However, as I sat thinking about what to say, what I wanted to convey to my peers that was important and useful and universal, the only worthwhile thing I could think of was the same topic that I had talked about every Saturday morning at 7 am. The centerpiece of our life at York has been ability to listen to one another, to see each other – to find common ground.
Here at York we had excellent opportunities to express ourselves with the classes we took, clubs we joined and people we interacted with. Yes, we chatted with our friends and ‘listened’ during class discussions, but it is much harder to interact with people in a way that creates insight. The world we head into has not set a good example; there are riots on college campuses, instances of extreme hate and endless streams of narrowly opinionated media. But in spite of the poor example the world has set for us, we individually, have the opportunity to create better. To do that we must recognize that communication is key and the cornerstone of communication is listening. Thank you, mom dad, teachers and principals who have all told us to listen. You are undoubtedly right, but the listening I am talking about asks us to step further. Each of us will meet people we disagree with in the coming years but despite the potential differences, those people deserve our attention and consideration just as we deserve theirs. York has given us ample opportunity to develop and share our thoughts and opinions both in and outside of the classroom and I wish that each of you will carry on the good deed and listen to those you meet. Just as York’s strength lies in its diversity of opinions, our individual strength lies in our commitment to live by the lessons York has taught us; to listen to one another, to see each other – to find common ground.
Now I have never heard a commencement speech that did not make use of a quote, so in good form I bring to you the wise words of Henry David Thoreau: “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and one to listen.” The truths we discover from others may be simply profound or profoundly simple, but not matter the situation you find yourself in in the coming years, remember to listen to those around you and make use of their wisdom and experiences.
I was responding to a constituent inquire about voting ID laws in Illinois on behalf of the state senator I was interning for.
Dear Mr. ———–,
Thank you for reaching out to my office with your inquiry about voter ID laws.
The most recent legal change that encompassed voter ID laws was signed into law this past year. In registering to vote, one must present two forms of valid identification, and then when they go to cast their ballot, no additional identification is required. If someone registered by mail without a license or a social security number, then they would have to present one form of identification at the polling location. If someone forgets to or is unable to register to vote before the election date, they can show two forms of identification at the polling location, or cast a provisional ballot which goes through extra security measures before it is counted in the election.
The penalty carried by voter identity fraud is heavy – up to $10,000 and/or 5 years in jail. Also, to ensure against voter fraud, the polls are staffed by election judges, and poll watchers are allowed to monitor polling in order to help guarantee the rules are being followed.
The mail-in ballot you received went through other security precautions before it is counted in the election and is then marked down by election judges so that someone cannot vote twice.
I agree that the Illinois voting system can be confusing, so I am glad you reached out and I hope this is helpful. If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office either by phone (630-903-6662) or by mail (338 S. Ardmore Ave. Villa Park IL 60181).
In this letter, I was replying to a constituent complaint about the noise of airplanes from the international airport that has flight paths over the senator’s district
Dear Ms. —–,
I very much appreciate you reaching out to my office. The O’Hare noise issue is one we know well, and it is a high concern among our constituents. In order to address this issue, I have worked with various departments and am happy to announce that a program to balance and test the noise disturbances began July 6th.
The Fly Quiet Runway Rotation Test Plan is a system to more evenly distribute flight paths around populated areas and route flights over less populated areas such as highways and forest preserves. The majority of the flights that are being re-routed are at night and will be rotated every week.
The program is run by the Chicago Department of Aviation, and they are maintaining a website that requests affected persons to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the program in order best address the issue long term. They also have the specifics of the flight rotations as well as more information about the tests on their website (http://www.airportprojects.net/flyquiettest/schedule/).
I hope you found this helpful, and if you have any more questions or comments feel free to reach back out to my office either by mail (338 S Ardmore Ave Villa Park IL 60181) or phone (630-903-6662).
As part of my capstone for the Community Based Research Scholars Program, I researched the best practices of work training programs and evaluated the United Planning Organization’s Workforce Institute off of my derived criteria. Attached is the presentation I gave to the President/CEO of UPO, the director of the Workforce Institute, other stakeholders from within UPO. I have removed the evaluation portion of the PowerPoint for the sake of UPO’s privacy.