WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Acting DC 911 director Heather McGaffin had her first hearing before a City Council committee on Wednesday, where she discussed how she plans on turning the troubled agency around despite lost trust on mismanaged emergency calls.
While the District’s Auditor Kathleen Patterson welcomed the promises to implement her office’s recommendations to improve operations, she told the members of the justice and public safety committee that much more still needs to be accomplished.
“I urge you to seek a commitment from the nominee to be transparent with the council and public with regard to the kinds of mistakes that have been documented on the part of the OUC and its 911 operations,” Patterson said during the virtual committee meeting.
“Yes, we have a very high call volume. Yes, the vast majority of calls are handled well. Yes, there are long-time OUC staff members who are committed, who work hard and who serve the public interest,” Patterson added. “But it remains a fact documented in the audit that too many calls are not handled well.”
Patterson addressed the council’s committee about the direction of the 911 call center and its troubles, even adding that “to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a public acknowledgement by the administration of the depth of the issues facing the OUC and documented in the October 2021 audit.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser nominated McGaffin last month to lead the Office of Unified Communications, which is under serious review by Patterson’s office given the systemic failures under previous leadership that led to misrouted calls and mistakes.
“The first step in a serious recovery program is to admit that you have a problem,” Patterson said. “From the date the audit was published, and from the mayor on down, public officials have failed to acknowledge what (her office’s) strong team of subject matter experts concluded: The District’s 911 center has major issues with training and supervision.”
McGaffin told the committee that she has the expertise to lead the agency at this time and is committed to following the audit suggestions.
“It’s my goal to help advance our agency, restore any lost trust and bring the combination of my education, my experience and my leadership tools to OUC and its workforce,” she said.
McGaffin joined the agency in October 2020 as the chief of special operations and investigations before moving up to deputy director.
The acting director promised a robust review of her 911 system. She said she hopes to minimize errors by improving training.
Councilwoman Brooke Pinto, who is the chairwoman of the committee, asked and received promises that McGaffin would implement the auditor recommendations and even commit to revealing all mistakes to the committee.
“I intend to look closely at how we operate daily and continue to implement solutions to address our misses,” McGaffin said.
While McGaffin claims many recommendations are completed, the auditor says only seven of the 31 recommendations made can actually be proven.
“The OUC’s response to our latest update on the Oct. 2021 audit declares several recommendations completed where our experts have been either unable to document progress or it is simply too soon to evaluate whether progress has been made.”
District officials said that no date has been set for the actual confirmation vote but that likely will happen in May after the committee budget process.