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Special Message to the Congress on the District of Columbia.

April 28, 1969

To the Congress of the United States:

Carved out of swampland at our country's birth, the Nation's Capital city now sets a new test of national purpose. This was a city that men dared to plan--and build by plan--laying out avenues and monuments and housing in accordance with a common rational scheme. Now we are challenged once again to shape our environment: to renew our city by rational foresight and planning, rather than leaving it to grow swamp-like without design.

At issue is whether the city will be enabled to take hold of its future: whether its institutions will be reformed so that its government can truly represent its citizens and act upon their needs.

Good government, in the case of a city, must be local government. The Federal Government has a special responsibility for the District of Columbia. But it also bears toward the District the same responsibility it bears toward all other cities: to help local government work better, and to attempt to supplement local resources for programs that city officials judge most urgent.

My aim is to increase the responsibility and efficiency of the District of Columbia's new government, which has performed so ably during its first perilous years. Early in this Administration, we recommended proposals that would increase the effectiveness of local law enforcement and provide the resources needed by local officials to begin revitalizing the areas damaged during the civil disturbance. Those proposals, however, cover only a part of the program which will be essential for the District Government to respond to the wishes of its people.

I now present the second part of this program, worked out in close consultation with the District Government, and based upon the needs articulated by the Mayor and the City Council.

This program will provide:

--An orderly mechanism for achieving self-government in the District of Columbia.

--Representation in Congress.

--Added municipal authority for the City Council and the Mayor.

--Additional top management positions to bring new talents and leadership into the District Government.

--A secure and equitable source of Federal funds for the District's budget.

--An expanded rapid rail transit system, linking the diverse segments of our Capital's metropolitan region. The Federal Government bears a major responsibility for the welfare of our Capital's citizens in general. It owns much of the District's land and employs many of its citizens. It depends on the services of local government. The condition of our Capital city is a sign of the condition of our nation--and is certainly taken as such by visitors, from all the states of the Union, and from around the globe.

However, this Federal responsibility does not require Federal rule. Besides the official Washington of monuments and offices, there is the Washington of 850,000 citizens with all the hopes and expectations of the people of any major city, striving and sacrificing for a better life-the eighth largest among the cities of our country.


Full citizenship through local self-government must be given to the people of this city: The District Government cannot be truly responsible until it is made responsible to those who live under its rule. The District's citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing--or to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizenship.

I therefore ask Congress to create a Commission on Self-Government for the District of Columbia, to be charged with submitting to Congress and the President a proposal for establishing meaningful sell-government in the District.

In order for any government to be accountable to the people, responsibilities must be clearly pinpointed, and officials must have the powers they need to carry out their responsibilities. The Commission would recommend how best to augment and allocate the legislative and executive authorities with respect to governing the city.

The members of this Commission would be partly appointed by the President, partly designated by the Congress, and partly chosen in a city-wide election by the citizens of the District. They would be given an adequate but strictly defined time period to formulate their plan. I would hope that the Commission would be established promptly, so that its report could be submitted to Congress and the President in time for the 1970 legislative session. With adequate funding, they would be able to draw on the wisdom of consultants throughout the country--men who know firsthand the art of the possible, as well as those who study government-in addition to their own staff.

The Commission members must give thorough consideration to the many alternative plans for self-government which have been presented over the years. But they must also make use of new knowledge we have gained about the problems of existing local governments around the country--in finance, management, urban development, citizen participation and many other areas. They must seek the sentiment of the District's citizens from the earliest stages of their work.

There also is a Federal interest that must be respected. The normal functions of the Federal agencies must be guaranteed and their vital operations protected. There must be continued Federal jurisdiction over public buildings and monuments and assurance of well-being for the men and women who work in them or come to visit. The rights of the national government must be protected, at the same time as the rights of the city's residents are secured. There must be respect for the responsibilities with regard to the District which the Constitution places in the Congress.

To establish a new government in so diverse and active a city as the District is certainly no easy task. There are dangers in setting up new governments, as well as opportunities. Congress has been rightly concerned that the plan for self-government must insure responsible elections, effective executive leadership, protection of individual liberty and safeguards for District of Columbia employees. Self-government must be extended in a timely and orderly manner.

It is especially important that the Commission go beyond the issue of self-government as such, and concern itself with the effective functioning of government in the District of Columbia. Under the existing government structure the City Council finds itself without the power to deal with many crucial problems because of the conflicting and divided authorities that now reside in independent agencies.

But there is no cause for delay: Self-government has remained an unfulfilled promise for far too long. It has been energetically supported by the past four Presidents-Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The Senate approved measures to provide it during the 81st, 82nd, 84th, and 86th Congresses. We owe the present lack of local elections to the Reconstruction period, when Congress rescued the District from bankruptcy but suspended the voting franchise. Congress established the Commission form of government in 1874 as a temporary "receivership," but the Commissioners' government persisted for over 90 years--and today, even after reorganization in 1967, the District remains under Federal control.

The history of failure for self-government proposals shows the need for a new plan strong enough to stand up against the old questions or criticisms. Myriad different plans have been offered--and will be offered again this year. But each will have its own doubters as well as its supporters. A Commission must examine all of them, combining old and new ideas in a proposal that will at last win the broad-based respect necessary for final acceptance, and that will carry the authority of a disinterested group of men whose vocation is government--jurists, political leaders and scholars, as well as other citizens, investing the wisdom of their life's work in a truly new government.

Recognizing both the solemn right of the District's citizens to self-government and the Federal interest, I ask Congress to act promptly on proposed legislation to establish a Commission on Self Government for the District of Columbia, which will be transmitted shortly.


I also urge Congress to grant voting representation in Congress to the District of Columbia. It should offend the democratic senses of this nation that the 850,000 citizens of its Capital, comprising a population larger than eleven of its states, have no voice in the Congress.

I urge that Congress approve, and the States ratify, an amendment to the Constitution granting to the District at least one representative in the House of Representatives, and such additional representatives in the House as the Congress shall approve, and to provide for the possibility of two Senators.

Until such an amendment is approved by Congress and ratified by the States, I recommend that Congress enact legislation to provide for a nonvoting House delegate from the District.


While working for self-government and Congressional Representation for the future, I recommend that Congress take certain measures this session to strengthen the present District Government, in both authority and efficiency.

The Reorganization Plan which established the present government left to Congress many mundane municipal functions which are burdensome chores to it but important functions for good local government. At present, Congress must allot a portion of its legislative calendar to setting ordinances for the District of Columbia, in effect performing the duties of a local City Council for the Capital. It thus deals with matters which are of little or no importance to the nation as a whole-the setting of a fee, for example, to redeem a dog from the city pound. The concerns of the District are frequently shunted aside to allow for higher-priority legislative business. "No policy can be worse than to mingle great and small concerns," argued Augustus Woodward, one of the founders of our city, when Congress considered establishing a territorial form of government in 1800. "The latter become absorbed in the former; are neglected and forgotten."

Legislation will be proposed to transfer a number of specific authorities to the District Government--including authority to change various fees for user charges now fixed by statute, waive license fees for new businesses, for persons whose businesses have been burnt out in a civil disturbance and modernize the licensing of various businesses, occupations and professions.

In addition, I recommend that the Mayor be given certain local responsibilities now exercised by Federal departments or agencies. Reorganization plans will be submitted in the coming weeks to transfer local functions now operated by the Federal Government--and frequently paid for by the District--to the Executive Branch of the District Government. Local services should be operated by local government. Such responsibilities are only an extra burden for the Federal departments, which should rightly devote their energies to the welfare of the entire nation.

I will also submit other reorganization plans to transfer certain independent or quasi-independent District agencies to the Mayor's jurisdiction. These actions will strengthen the executive direction of the City's administration and complement the continuing reorganization and strengthening of the District's administrative structure.

Granting new authority to the Mayor and City Council would in no way prejudice the ultimate form or degree of Self Government. It would provide them with powers which any good local government, however chosen, should exercise. By initiating this process now, we thus build the strength of local institutions even as we make them more responsible, formally, to their citizens.


Good government is the product of able and dedicated people working together. The District Government needs the very best urban managers and experts this nation has to direct the Capital's growth and apply its resources, and it must be able to attract such public servants at realistic salary rates.

Adding to the number of top management positions is vital to the effective carrying out of District Government reorganization--the creation of new departments recently announced by the Mayor, and other steps planned for the future. Such reorganization, streamlining the chain of command, is one of the most promising achievements of the Mayor's first years.

Accordingly, I urge Congress to enact legislation to increase the number of supergrade positions available to the District Government.


The District of Columbia cannot achieve strong and efficient government unless it has ample and dependable sources of financing. Sound financing can be achieved only if the Federal Government pays its appropriate share.

I therefore recommend that the Congress authorize a Federal payment formula, fixing the Federal contribution at 30 percent of local tax and other general fund revenues.

This formula would equitably reflect the Federal interest in the District of Columbia at this time with respect to:

--the 217,000 Federal employees who work in the District, about one-third of the local work force.

--the more than 10 million Americans who visit their nation's Capital each year.

--the embassies and nationals of the foreign governments.

--the land and buildings owned by the Federal Government which cannot be taxed but comprise more than 40 percent of the District's land value.

Enactment of a formula approach would be a significant step toward effective government in the District. It would tie the level of Federal aid to the burden of local taxes on the District's citizens. It would also provide the District with a predictable estimate for use in the annual budget process, thus allowing it to plan its expenditures more accurately and imaginatively for the growing needs of its population. A similar formula, dealing with District borrowing authorization, was enacted by the Congress more than a year ago--and has already proven its worth in improved budgetary planning.

The proposed Federal payment formula would not involve an automatic expenditure of Federal funds. The Federal payment would still have to be appropriated by Congress.

By authorizing the Federal payment at 30 percent of all District general fund revenues, the Congress would allow a payment of $120 million in fiscal 1970, an increase of $30 million above the present fixed authorization. This payment is incorporated in the District's 1970 budget request.


The National Capital needs and deserves a mass transit system that is truly metropolitan, unifying the central city with the surrounding suburbs. As a part of its responsibility for the National Capital Region, the Federal Government should support deliberate action, based upon effective planning, to meet the future transportation needs of the Region. The surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia, as Congress rightly recognized, include the most rapidly growing areas of population and job opportunities, potentially of rich benefit to the inner city.

Mass transit must be part of a balanced transportation network. A subway will not relieve local governments of the duty to modernize and improve their highway systems and other forms of transportation, so that all citizens have an adequate choice as to how they travel. Clearly, the impasse that has arisen between proponents of road and rail transportation in the Washington metropolitan area has contributed little to the progress of either. There are, however, hopeful signs that a fair and effective settlement of these issues will be reached in the near future. It is in the interest of all those involved--central city dwellers, suburbanites, shoppers, employees, and visitors alike--that this be done.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, in consultation with the District Government and other local jurisdictions, has prepared legislation which would extend the presently authorized 25-mile rapid rail transit system to a 97-mile regional system. The expanded system would provide rapid transit between the downtown and outlying areas. It would facilitate the free flow of resources and. labor, and would benefit all eight jurisdictions involved in its planning and approval.

The proposed legislation fulfills the Congressional mandate in a 1966 Act, which directed the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority to plan, develop, finance and provide for the operation of a full regional rapid rail system for the National Capital area.

The 97-mile system would relieve downtown congestion; increase employment; make educational, cultural and recreational facilities more accessible; reduce air pollution; stimulate business, industry, and tourism; broaden tax bases; and promote orderly urban development of the Nation's Capital.

The cost of the expanded system is estimated to be some $2.5 billion. Fare box receipts would pay for $835 million. The remaining cost of $1.7 billion (the net project cost) would be divided equitably among all the governments concerned on a 2/3-1/3 sharing basis between Federal and local governments.

The local governments concerned have already passed bond referenda or taken other appropriate action to finance their contributions of $347 million. But action by Congress is needed to authorize grants sufficient to cover the $1.1 billion Federal (2/3) share of the net project cost and capital contributions of $216 million for the District's portion of the local (1/3) share.

I urge that Congress promptly enact the necessary authorizing legislation for the 97-mile system.


Finally, we come to the Washington that so many millions flock to visit; the Washington that stands as a proud physical symbol of our Nation's liberties and its hopes.

Pennsylvania Avenue should be one of the great Avenues of our Republic--as in the original vision of our Capital City-and will be so if the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission presses forward with its present plans. Already, in accordance with the Commission's plans, construction of the Presidential Building at 13th Street has been completed; construction is continuing on the new Capitol Reflecting Pool, as well as buildings for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Labor Department. Planning is going forward for the Federal Triangle, a new Municipal Center at Judiciary Square, and an extension of the National Gallery. Our ultimate goal must be the Avenue of L'Enfant's Plan, a grand route connecting the Congress and the President's House, the vital center of the City, monumental in importance but designed for the Citizens of this Nation to enjoy at all hours for work or pleasure. I will encourage the development of this plan and submit legislation at the appropriate time.

One of the most significant additions to Pennsylvania Avenue will be an international center for scholars, to be established as a living memorial to Woodrow Wilson in the area just north of the National Archives. There could hardly be a more appropriate memorial to a President who combined a devotion to scholarship with a passion for peace. The District has long sought, and long needed, a center for both men of letters and men of affairs. This should be, as it was first proposed, "an institution of learning that the 22nd Century will regard as having influenced the 21st."

The renewal of Pennsylvania Avenue is an enterprise which two Presidents have supported. Their vision was the great vision of Pierre L'Enfant, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, whose plans embodied the ageless ideal of a Capital City. It is a vision which links Presidents, as it links the citizens of the District, in the love of this city. And I am proud to join them.


It is a noble aim--this planning of a Capital City. It encompasses a drive which must apply to areas of rebuilding beyond a single Avenue, and to areas of need beyond physical renovation. It infuses our knowledge of human want with a new urgency. It tests our vision of man, and of the future of his cities.

I ask the Congress, and the American people, to join in this great enterprise, knowing that if we govern with wisdom in this Capital City, it will be a proud symbol of the quality of American life and the reach of America's aspirations.


The White House

April 28, 1969

Note: The present District of Columbia Government was established by Reorganization Plan 3 of 1967.

Of the legislation proposed in this message, the following was enacted during 1969:

Additional supergrade positions for certain District officials were included in a comprehensive measure adding to the supergrade positions in the Federal Executive (Public Law 91-187, 83 Stat. 850).

Federal payments to the District Government were authorized by title VII of the District of Columbia Revenue Act of 1969 (Public Law 91-106, 83 Stat. 180) and the District of Columbia Appropriation Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-155, 83 Stat. 428).

A 97-mile rapid rail transit system for Washington was authorized by the National Capital Transportation Act of 1969 (Public Law 91-143, 83 Stat. 320), and funds for the system were provided by title II of the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriation Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-168, 83 Stat. 461).

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on the District of Columbia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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