Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971

Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: April 7, 1971

Special Message to the Congress About the District of Columbia.
April 7, 1971

To the Congress of the United States:

Too often in the time since President Washington met with Pierre L’Enfant in Georgetown to review plans for the new District of Columbia—180 years ago last month—the Federal responsibility to the Federal District has not been honored as it should be. Too often Presidents and Congresses have overlooked the opportunity to validate their designs for the Nation by realizing them here in the District of Columbia. But in recent years we have begun to write a new record, one in which the Federal Government can take pride, one which is lifting the city of Washington from the status of a stepchild into the ranks of the firstborn among America’s great cities.

The single unifying motive behind all of the diverse proposals and initiatives I am putting forward in this message today is to give Washingtonians, as American citizens, and Washington, as the Nation’s capital, the very best in the performance of the responsibilities of government—as they deserve. Let the New American Revolution which we seek for all Americans begin here, in the Nation’s Capital—and now, in 1971.


If we are to bring the New American Revolution to the people of Washington, we must start by securing for them thebenefits of the original American Revolution, in which they still do not fully share. The fundamental rights for which George Washington’s armies fought—men’s rights to be represented in the legislature that taxes them and to hold consent over the government that rules them—can no longer be denied to the city that bears Washington’s name.

Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1967, which broke almost a century of stagnation in the progress of District government and set up a new system with a Mayor-Commissioner and a City Council, represented an important first step toward making Washingtonians full citizens of their own city. I am in full support of the letter and the spirit of that reorganization, and my administration will continue to work to strengthen the city government’s hand in managing its own affairs more effectively.

One of my most pressing goals for this Nation is to place local functions under local control, and to equip local governments with the authority and the resources they need in order to serve their communities well. To this end I solicit the cooperation of the Congress in transferring many of the routine municipal functions it now must exercise itself, into the hands of the District government. Several such functions whose transfer is requested in the District’s 1971 legislative program include the setting of liquor license fees, the execution of long term lease agreements, and the issuance of no cost driver’s permits for use by District police officers on duty. It is clearly time to stop tying the city’s hands, and squandering the Congress’ valuable time, by holding on Capitol Hill minor powers that belong in the District Building.

Further managerial reforms will be recommended by the Commission on the Organization of the Government of the District of Columbia (Nelsen1 Commission) created last year and charged (in legislation now pending) to report its findings to the Congress in March 1972. Such recommendations are needed—but there is another dimension of need as well. District government must become not only more efficient but also more democratic.

1 Representative Ancher Nelsen of Minnesota was Chairman of the Commission.

Therefore, we will shortly submit legislation adding six months to the life of the Nelsen Commission and authorizing it to prepare a second report stating its views on the subject of expanded self-government for the District of Columbia. This would be a logical use of the expertise assembled on the Commission, and a natural extension of its area of study. From the first report on improving government for the people, it would move to a second report on shaping government by the people.

Evolving hand in hand with the movement toward full popular participation in District government is the steady progress toward giving the people of Washington full participation in the Federal Government. They have now voted in two Presidential elections, and now they have elected their first Congressional delegate in a century. I was proud to personally congratulate the Reverend Walter Fauntroy immediately after his election to this important post two weeks ago. Establishment of the nonvoting House delegate position—by legislation which my administration introduced and advocated-gives Washington a voice in the Congress. But it is only an interim step, for the city should be entitled to a vote there as well.I reaffirm my strong support for a Constitutional amendment granting to the District at least one full voting representative in the House of Representatives, plus such additional representation in one or both houses as the Congress may approve.

There is a wide range of other fronts on which local government in the Nation’s Capital could be strengthened and its responsiveness to the people increased. Electoral reform is one, and there are many others. This administration will continue to work receptively and cooperatively in this area with the Congress and with all interested groups in the District of Columbia.


Forms of government are important-yet they can mean little in a city whose people are ruled by fear for their personal safety and the security of their property. One of my administration’s first priorities in the District of Columbia has been to move the city from its place near the top of the list in the incidence and increase of crime, into a position of leadership in crime reduction. Only when this is done can we move toward healthy development for Washington and a fuller life for its people. And now, it is being done.

The District’s crime rate declined 5.2 percent from 1969 to 1970, reversing the rapid increases of the late 1960s. Thus people who live in the District, people who work here, and our millions of visitors from around the world, are safer on the city’s streets. Equally important, the decline in the District’s crime rate, together with crime decreases in 21 other major cities last year, demonstrates that urban crime throughout the Nation can be successfully challenged through decisive action.

Action taken to combat crime in Washington has included: —An increase in the Metropolitan Police Force from 4,100 to 5, 100 officers, with a greater percentage of the force moved into the law enforcement front lines by using civilian personnel to perform many routine functions.
—Landmark legislation which modernized the D.C. court system and provided law enforcement officers with new criminal procedures.
—A substantial narcotics treatment and enforcement program, to rehabilitate narcotics victims and to reduce the criminal activity which supports drug addiction.
—A program of experimental, high-intensity street lighting in selected areas of the city.

—An increase in minority representation on the police force from 28 percent to 37 percent—the highest in the Nation—through a determined community recruiting program.
—A language training program to improve police service in Spanish speaking neighborhoods.
—Creation of the Executive Protective Service to enhance protection of foreign embassies and free D.C. police for regular civil assignments.

In addition, an increasingly metropolitan perspective is developing among law enforcement agencies in and around Washington. The administration will help to reinforce this trend toward coordinated action, so that crime reductions within the District of Columbia are not rendered hollow by a growing crime problem in the suburbs. The first logical place to beginapplying some of the lessons we have learned about combatting crime in the District is right in our neighboring communities.

Looking to the future, we will continue to press the combination of programs that has proved so successful over the past two years. In order to strengthen the D.C. Narcotics Treatment Administration-one of the keystones of the District’s success in crime reduction, and a national leader in the fight against hard drug abuse—I have requested the Attorney General to provide the program with a total of $3 million in grant assistance during calendar year 1971 from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. This will enable the program to reach more of the city’s addicts and to expand the job counseling and other services it offers them.

My 1972 budget requests, together with those of the District government, provide for:
—Full-year funding for Washington’s 35 new U.S. Attorneys and 13 new U.S. District judgeships, which were approved by the Congress in a 1971 supplemental appropriation.
—Upgrading the efforts of the Executive Protective Service in protecting the foreign embassies in the District.
—Maintenance of police strength at 5,100 men with additional training to improve force effectiveness.
—Implementation of the new court reform legislation.
—Improved care and custody for the growing institutional population, and expansion of the community-based correctional program.

I urge the Congress to contribute to the momentum of our winning battle against crime in the Nation’s Capital by approving these requests.


Central to my proposals for revitalizing State and local government across this country in the years ahead is the recognition that all the political authority a community may possess is only paper power if it lacks the resources—the dollars—it needs to deliver services and amenities to its people. Our program for some $16 billion in general and special revenue sharing-the last portion of which I transmitted to the Congress yesterday-is essentially an effort to give the cities and States the tools they need to do their jobs.

"Revenue sharing" of a sort has been a way of life in the District of Columbia for many years, as it properly should be in view of the Federal presence in the District. My budget requests for fiscal year 1972 call for Federal payments of $153 million to the District government—an increase of more than 20 percent over the currently authorized level. And General Revenue Sharing, when enacted, would bring the city an additional $23 million share during the first year. Welfare reform, besides extending new dignity and tangible benefits to the District’s welfare recipients, would lead to further large savings for the city government.

Beyond the fiscal relief which these national reform proposals would afford Washington, there are several areas where the Federal interest in the District warrants special financial support. These include the metropolitan rapid rail mass transit system (METRO); improved water quality facilities and other publicworks construction projects; and public higher education.


Excavations for METRO’s subway tunnels and stations already dot the District. When it goes into operation at the beginning of 1974 it will be the Nation’s most modern mass transit system. It should do much to unify the metropolitan Washington community, to improve the quality of life by reducing congestion and pollution in the area, and to stimulate the metropolitan economy by the increased labor mobility it will provide. I am confident that disagreements over implementation of the 1968 and 1970 Highway Acts—now tying up needed METRO funds—can be resolved, and I have urged all of the parties involved to give priority to meeting these legislative obligations.

To remove another major obstacle now confronting METRO, I am today proposing that the Federal Government guarantee the revenue bonds of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority so as to expedite their sale. Severe inflation in the construction industry has combined with unexpected delays in the METRO development timetable to create a $450 million gap in the financial plan originally advanced by WMATA, and to impair the marketability of the METRO revenue bonds. By guaranteeing these securities, we can help WMATA sell all its originally planned bonds so that METRO construction can go forward at once. The bonds would become taxable as a condition of the guarantee, providing a revenue flowback to the Treasury from the interest paid on them. This flowback in turn would permit the Federal Government to cover 25 percent of the Authority’s anticipated interest costs on the bonds, enabling the issuance of $300 million in additional bonds. Federal assistance would thus help WMATA close two-thirds of its $450 million revenue gap, in keeping with the two-thirds Federal and one-third local cost sharing arrangement that has prevailed for METRO funding in general.


Washington’s efforts to improve its public services and to enhance the urban environment are doubly deserving of Federal support—not only for the sake of the city and the people themselves, but for the sake of the whole Nation as well. This applies to the city’s hopes of showing the Nation the way in urban mass transit, and it applies equally to the ecological and esthetic imperatives of purifying our waters.

The Potomac, the great river that George Washington loved and that was the principal influence on his choice of a site for the Federal District, must be restored as an asset to the entire region. The Congress last year indicated its strong interest in this matter by ordering a thorough study of the water resources and waste treatment problems of the Washington metropolitan area. The Environmental Protection Agency has completed that study and it is now being reviewed within the administration.

A vital factor in whatever strategy we adopt will be the regional water pollution control plant at Blue Plains. Work is now underway to increase the capacity of this plant in response to population growth in the metropolitan area, and to upgrade its treatment level so it can meet requiredwater quality standards. My 1971 environmental proposals and my FY 1972 budget provide for continued support of this improvement project by the Environmental Protection Agency. I will shortly submit to the Congress a District FY 1971 supplemental appropriation request to permit the District of Columbia to maintain its share of support for the work.

The money which the District government is required to spend to meet its share of the Blue Plains improvement costs is raised by direct borrowing from the United States Treasury—the standard means of financing all District public works and capital outlays. However the borrowing authority of the District government under present law is insufficient to meet the Blue Plains needs in FY 1972 and subsequent years. Rather than merely seeking an ad hoc extension of this borrowing authority, I am renewing my proposal that all capital financing for the District of Columbia be shifted from direct Treasury loans to municipal bonds. The 91st Congress did not enact this needed reform, and I have now placed it before the 92nd Congress. The features of this bonding proposal parallel those I have just described for METRO bonds: D.C. capital bonds would be Federally guaranteed and Federally taxable, with a Federal subsidy covering approximately 25 percent of interest costs. Under this arrangement the District of Columbia would gain most of the advantages of ordinary municipal bonds while retaining an extra degree of Federal support in keeping with the unique Federal interest in District affairs. Blue Plains is only the most urgent of many public works projects which could progress more quickly and efficiently as a result.

Extending this type of bonding authority to the District government is exactly in line with a cardinal principle of the New American Revolution: that the way to help local government become more responsible is to entrust it with more responsibility.


A city can have no obligation higher, and no investment more worthy, than the development of its human resources. The Nation can be proud of the way this priority is being recognized in the District of Columbia. The Washington Technical Institute and the Federal City College, both created in recent years, are helping thousands of young Washingtonians expand their opportunities by developing their potential beyond the high school level. The work that these institutions have done under a variety of handicaps and hardships is remarkable, and this administration is committed to helping the District eliminate their handicaps as quickly as possible. For this reason, my proposal for District of Columbia public works bonding makes a special provision to assist the construction of permanent campuses for the Institute and the College. It would shift the financing of these projects from Treasury loans to direct Federal grant support.

This approach would simplify and speed the effort to give Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College the kind of physical facilities they deserve to match the levels of dedication and performance they have shown from the first. It would also remove a substantial burden on the future public debt of the District government. Purely from a business standpoint, these grants can be regarded as asound investment in upgrading the local work force—with the Federal Government, as Washington’s major employer, certain to be one of the principal beneficiaries.

It has seemed particularly desirable that the Washington Technical Institute be relocated from its temporary quarters in the southern portion of the old National Bureau of Standards site in Northwest Washington. Since 1968 this land has been earmarked by the Congress for construction of an International Center which would house foreign chanceries and the headquarters of the Organization of American States. Many countries have been unable to find adequate quarters for their chanceries here in Washington, and the Congress by this action recognized the importance of providing suitable space for them. At the same time, it is important that the Washington Technical Institute be moved with minimum interruption of its outstanding educational programs.

After a thorough review of alternative sites for the Institute and the International Center, I have accepted the recommendations of the National Capital Planning Commission, other affected Federal agencies, and the Washington Technical Institute that the two activities share the old Bureau of Standards site. The International Center can occupy the south end—the present Institute grounds-while the northern portion of the site can become an excellent permanent campus for the Institute. Planning is proceeding accordingly. During construction of its new buildings, the Institute will be housed in suitably adapted existing buildings on the north side of the site.

I will shortly transmit budget requests for this move and for the relocation of Federal agency activities now on the site. In the coming years, both the Institute and the International Center will be important new landmarks on upper Connecticut Avenue, symbolizing side by side the Capital City’s dedication to human development and to international understanding.

Planning for the permanent campus of Federal City College has not progressed as quickly as that for the Washington Technical Institute site, and so I will not discuss the various alternatives and possibilities at length here. I would stress, however, my firm commitment to assisting the College not only through construction grants but also through active interest in the process of translating those dollars into land, classrooms, and other facilities which can begin benefitting Federal City’s students in the near future.


All of the areas in which I have proposed that the Federal Government give special attention to helping the District government help itself—mass transit, clean water, and human resources development bear directly on the support of a -vigorous, expanding economy in the Nation’s Capital. They would help to create a climate that favors economic growth. I now urge the Congress to assist business and industry in taking advantage of that climate by establishing a Development Bank for the District of Columbia, as proposed in legislation which the administration is submitting. Such a Development Bank, forging a new partnership among Federal officials, local officials, and representatives of the private sector, would serve as an action center in assembling the necessary combinationsof capital and management skills so that economic development opportunities do not go begging as they have sometimes done in the past.

Washington has been called, not too kindly but with a measure of truth, a "company town." Inevitably the Federal Government will remain a dominant factor in the metropolitan economy, but one industry communities all over the Nation are seeing the wisdom of diversifying, and often it is the major employer in the community which takes the lead in broadening the economic base to create new jobs and a wider prosperity. Certainly that should be the case in Washington, and can be if we move to establish the Development Bank.


The bicentennial of American independence, now only five years away, is a natural focal point for our hopes and plans of what the Nation and the Nation’s Capital can become. Many cities will take part in this great observance as we celebrate our heritage and map our third century that lies ahead. Boston as the cradle of liberty, and Philadelphia as the scene of the bold political strokes leading to independence and union, will both play leading roles. But Washington, truly the child of the American Revolution, will have an especially exciting chance to show the world how that child has come to full maturity.

We must give urgent and continuing attention to enhancing the Nation’s Capital as "the city of magnificent distances"-the gracious description a Portuguese diplomat gave it when it was little more than a village in the wilderness. To insure vigorous Federal participation in the work of readying Washington’s public buildings, avenues, and open spaces for the bicentennial year, I have asked Robert Kunzig, the General Services Administrator, to serve as my Special Assistant for District Bicentennial Development Projects. I have also resubmitted to the Congress legislation to create a Federal City Bicentennial Development Corporation which would exercise leadership in public and private efforts to realize the development potential of the Pennsylvania Avenue area.

A number of construction projects included in my budget for fiscal year 1972 also point to an attractive new look for Federal Washington by 1976. These include the Smithsonian Institution’s plans to build a new National Air and Space Museum on the Mall and a new display area for cultural and technological advances of the past two centuries in the National Museum of History and Technology; the National Sculpture Garden which the National Park Service will build on the Mall; new buildings for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare, and the United States Tax Court; and the James Madison Memorial Library addition to the Library of Congress. I ask the Congress to appropriate the necessary, funds for these projects.

As we work to beautify the official face of the city, we will not neglect the task of healing its residential heart. The wounds of anguish inflicted on portions of Washington in the tragic aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination three years ago this week are still far too evident, depressing the lives of residents and scarring their neighborhoods. The riot-torn areas, as well as those suffering from blight and decay, deserve accelerated urban renewalassistance—this the administration is cooperating with local officials to provide. One of my first Executive actions as President was to pledge "full support...and...the utmost Executive energy" for neighborhood redevelopment efforts in the District of Columbia. A start has been made, but through Federal and local determination we can do still better. We shall.

Georgetown, the District of Columbia’s living link to the colonial and Revolutionary eras, also merits special attention in the course of our bicentennial preparations. We have come to the point where failure to act immediately on an overall development and preservation plan for the Georgetown waterfront area will mean the loss by default of its unique combination of historical, scenic, and natural values. While many imaginative ideas for such a plan have been advanced over the years, none has been adopted. Now roads and commercial development threaten to change the waterfront forever, piecemeal. I have asked the District government, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Departments of HUD, Transportation, and Interior to join with private citizens and move ahead at once in developing an overall plan for the Georgetown waterfront. The purpose of the plan will be to insure the preservation of historic buildings, to increase park lands, to save the open vistas of the river and Roosevelt Island, and to provide for the harmonious development of public, commercial, and residential facilities.


Charles Dickens, visiting the United States in 1842, took issue with the Portuguese diplomat’s characterization of Washington. It should be called, he said, the city of magnificent intentions. His novelist’s eye missed no detail of the bustling human life of the Capital, and the whole scene suggested to him visions and dreams—social and political as well as architectural—unfulfilled, still striven for.

Dickens’ insight remains pointed and valid today. For it is clear that Washington’s role as we enter America’s third century must be not only that of a political and ceremonial capital, but also that of a living city—a city alive in its own right with three-quarters of a million Americans, the life-center of all these United States. Our intentions for Washington still outreach our achievements, as they may for decades to come. But let us at least be very clear about what those intentions are; let us make them as magnificent as L’Enfant’s physical plan for the District; and let us begin moving apace to realize them.

The reality may be long in coming, but the right intention is simple enough to state: Washington should embody the essence of what is best in America. The direction of Federal effort then is plain. Federal effort should contribute wherever possible to making this a city unexcelled in quality of life, urban grace and efficiency, and economic opportunity. Federal effort should follow the principle that since government is Washington’s raison d’etre, we will do the city the greatest credit by making its local government a model and by making the Federal Government that is centered here as effective and democratic as we can.

Washington as a living city, and an exemplary one—Washington as the seat of a local and a Federal Government that are truly of the people, by the people, and for the people: I invite the people of theDistrict of Columbia and the Congress of the United States to share in these exciting hopes for the years ahead.


The White House
April 7, 1971

NOTE: On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on the President’s message by John A. Volpe, Secretary, and John P. Olsson, Deputy Under Secretary, Department of Transportation; and Richard P. Nathan, Assistant Director, Office of Management and Budget.


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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "132 Special Message to the Congress About the District of Columbia.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217 512–520. Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022,

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "132 Special Message to the Congress About the District of Columbia." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217, pp. 512–520. Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '132 Special Message to the Congress About the District of Columbia.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217, pp.512–520. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from