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What's going on?
(Published April 4, 2005)

The recent arrest of Kifah W. Jayyousi, former head of facilities management for D.C. Public Schools, should give pause to citizens about the increasing shroud of secrecy surrounding government operations -- i.e., the public's business.

Jayyousi -- who was hired by former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in 1999 and fired by her successor, Paul Vance, in 2001 for poor job performance – was arrested by federal agents March 27 as he returned home to Detroit from a business trip to Qatar. He was charged with helping to funnel money raised for charitable purposes to support, instead, the activities of violent Islamic extremists in Bosnia, Chechnya and Somalia. These extremists are alleged to have links to the terrorist al Qaeda network.

Keep in mind that Jayyousi’s tenure on the public payroll predated the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, which left thousands dead and many more injured. Federal investigators have named al Qaeda responsible for the coordinated hijacking of the fuel-laden commercial airliners that were flown into those buildings.

Jayyousi's attorney says his client is not guilty of the charges lodged against him, but Jayyousi's innocence or guilt is immaterial to some of the questions we raise.

Court documents, according to news reports, say that Jayyousi came under federal suspicion in the mid-1990s, predating his hiring to supervise the buildings in which more than 60,000 D.C. children attend school. For many years, the public has been told that background checks are conducted on individuals hired by the school system – so Jayyousi’s hiring is yet another example of the inadequacies in that flawed, and highly secretive, system.

Did federal authorities aid Jayyousi’s efforts to seek a high-level facilities management job in the D.C. schools because they thought he would be easier to watch in Washington? The public has to wonder.

A more public vetting of management-level applicants in the D.C. government – as well as more direct interaction between the public and individuals after they assume these positions of public trust – might result in people coming forward to raise questions, when appropriate, about personal character or job performance.

In Jayyousi’s case, he was working directly on a routine basis with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while helping to plan and carry out an ambitious building program for public schools in the nation’s capital. Should he eventually be found guilty as charged, we can only wonder how much material assistance, financial and technical, might have been given to foreign terrorists with the unwitting aid of D.C. taxpayers.

Based on the little that is publicly known about the charges against Kifah Jayyousi, D.C. taxpayers should raise some serious questions about the way in which their government is being run. How many more highly paid public servants in the D.C. government -- like Jayyousi -- are being trusted to perform their duties, and given free rein to what routinely should be public information, while the public is being kept in the dark?

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator