Since DC is not part of any state, its government structure is unique and can be difficult to understand. The following guide explains the basics about the DC government, the roles of its elected officials, how a bill becomes a law, the DC Code, voting rights, local taxes, government organizations and more.
How is the DC government structured?
The U.S. Constitution grants Congress "exclusive jurisdiction" over the District of Columbia as it is considered a federal district, and not a state.
Until the passage of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, a federal law that passed on December 24, 1973, the nation’s capital did not have its own local government. The Home Rule Act delegated local responsibilities to a mayor and a 13 member city council, a legislative branch including one representative of each of the District’s eight wards, four at-large positions and a chairman. The mayor is the head of the executive branch and is responsible for enforcing city laws and approving or vetoing bills. The Council is the legislative branch and makes the laws and approves the annual budget and financial plan. It also oversees the operations of government agencies and confirms major appointments made by the Mayor. The mayor and council members are elected to four-year terms.
What government officials are elected?
In addition to the Mayor and the Council, DC residents elect representatives for the District of Columbia State Board of Education, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, a US Congressional Delegate, two shadow United States Senators and a shadow Representative.
What are Advisory Neighborhood Commissions?
The neighborhoods of the District of Columbia are divided into 8 Wards (districts established for administrative or political purposes). The Wards are subdivided into 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) which have elected Commissioners who advise the DC government on issues relating to traffic, parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licenses, zoning, economic development, police protection, sanitation and trash collection, and the city's annual budget.
Each Commissioner represents approximately 2,000 residents in his or her Single Member District area, serves two-year terms and receives no salary. The Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions is located in the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20004. (202) 727-9945.
How does a bill become a law in the District of Columbia?
An idea for a new law or an amendment to an existing one is introduced. A written document is then produced and filed by a Council member. The bill is assigned to a committee. If the committee chooses to review the bill, it will conduct a hearing with testimony from residents and government officials in support of and against the bill. The committee may make changes to the bill. Then it goes to the Committee of the Whole. The bill is placed on the agenda of the upcoming Council meeting. If the bill is approved by the Council by majority vote, it is placed on the agenda for the next Council legislative meeting that takes place at least 14 days later. The Council then considers the bill for a second time. If the Council approves the bill at second reading, it is then sent to the Mayor for his consideration. The Mayor may sign the legislation, allow it to become effective without his signature or disapprove it by exercising his veto power.
If the Mayor vetoes the bill, the Council must reconsider it and approve it by two-thirds vote for it to become effective. The legislation is then assigned an Act number and must be approved by Congress. Since the District of Columbia is not part of any state, it is overseen directly by the federal government. All legislation is subject to congressional review and may be overturned. An approved Act is sent to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for a period of 30 days before becoming effective as law (or 60 days for certain criminal legislation).
What is the DC Code?
The official listing of District of Columbia laws is called the DC Code. It is online and available to the general public. See the DC Code.
What does the DC Court system do?
The local courts are the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, whose judges are appointed by the President.
The courts are operated by the federal government, but are separate from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which only hear cases regarding federal law. The Superior Court handles local trials relating to civil, criminal, family court, probate, tax, landlord-tenant, small claims, and traffic matters. The Court of Appeals is the equivalent of a state supreme court and is authorized to review all judgments made by the Superior Court. It also reviews decisions of administrative agencies, boards, and commissions of the DC government.
What is the status of voting rights for the District of Columbia?
DC has no voting representatives in Congress. The city is considered a federal district even though it now has more than 600,000 residents. Local politicians have to lobby federal officials to influence how the federal government spends their tax dollars on important issues such as health care, education, Social Security, environmental protection, crime control, public safety and foreign policy. Local organizations continue to plea for statehood. Read more about DC voting rights.
What taxes do DC residents pay?
DC residents pay local taxes on a variety of items, including income, property and retail sales items. And if you were wondering, yes, the President pays local income taxes since he lives in the White House. Read more about DC Taxes.
How do I get in touch with a specific DC government organization?
The District of Columbia has numerous agencies and services. Here is contact information for some of the key agencies.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions - anc.dc.gov - (202) 727-9945
Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration - abra.dc.gov - (202) 442-4423
Board of Elections and Ethics - dcboee.org - (202) 727-2525
Child and Family Services Agency - cfsa.dc.gov - (202) 442-6000
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs - dcra.dc.gov - (202) 442-4400
Department of Employment Services - does.dc.gov - (202) 724-7000
Department of Health - doh.dc.gov - (202) 442-5955
Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking - disb.dc.gov - (202) 727-8000
Department of Motor Vehicles - dmv.dc.gov - 311
Department of Public Works - dpw.dc.gov - (202) 673-6833
DC Office on Aging - dcoa.dc.gov - (202) 724-5622
DC Public Library - dclibrary.org - (202) 727-0321
DC Public Schools - dcps.dc.gov - (202) 442-5885
DC Water - dcwater.com - (202) 787-2000
District Department of Transportation - ddot.dc.gov - (202) 673-6813
Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department - fems.dc.gov - (202) 673-3331
Mayor’s Office - dc.gov - (202) 727-6300
Metropolitan Police Department - mpdc.dc.gov – 311
Office of the Chief Financial Officer - cfo.dc.gov - (202) 727-2476
Office of Zoning - dcoz.dc.gov - (202) 727-6311
Public Charter School Board - dcpubliccharter.com - (202) 328-2660
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority - wmata.com - (202) 962-1234