Once upon a time in Washington, D.C., a compulsive liar was in charge of the local government, the city’s legislature was beyond dysfunctional, and the District had debt as far as the eye could see. Today, a similar situation has returned to Washington, but this time it is the federal government, not the D.C. government, that has lost control over its ability to manage its finances.
In 1995, a Republican-led Congress worked with President Bill Clinton to get the District back on track. They created the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority — better known as the “Control Board.” The Board arguably saved D.C. from an economic collapse. Could a control board for the federal government do the same for America?
The D.C. Control Board was based on a model that had been successfully used elsewhere to help a number of jurisdictions facing fiscal and economic crisis. In 1978, after Cleveland became the first major city since the Great Depression to default on short-term notes, the Ohio legislature lent to the city to avert bankruptcy and created a state-run system for monitoring local government finances. In 1991, Pennsylvania helped Philadelphia overcome its budget crisis through the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which exists to this day and has the power to review and approve the city’s five-year financial plans.