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'Independent' oversight questioned
(Published April 18, 2005)

Staff Writer

About 400 employees of the District's chief financial officer are being paid millions of dollars out of the budgets of city agencies over which they are responsible for exercising "independent" financial oversight.

"They are performing a function of support and independent oversight," Maryann Young, a spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, told The Common Denominator in defense of the practice. Young was unable to immediately provide a breakdown by agency of the CFO's employees who are hired and supervised by Gandhi but whose salaries come from city agency budgets.

The CFO office budget for the current fiscal year, which does not include the imbedded employees, totals $107.1 million and includes 965 full-time equivalent positions. The CFO's office is requesting a budget increase to $123.5 million for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1 of this year.

The chief financial officer, a position created by Congress to provide independent oversight of D.C. government financial operations, independently sets its workers' pay scale without regard to city personnel regulations or city council approval.

Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At Large, said she began questioning the use of city agencies as what she called "a sort of employment agency" for the CFO when a line-item labeled "harmonization" showed up in the budgets of agencies under her committee's purview.

"We said ‘What is this?' and (Gandhi) said ‘Oh, it's pay increases'...He was calling it ‘mandatory' costs having to be covered out of a one-time dipping into the reserve funds. But what's ‘mandatory' about that?" Schwartz said.

Schwartz said about $4.8 million included in the mayor's budget request for the three agencies her committee oversees – the Departments of Transportation, Motor Vehicles and Public Works – would pay 57 full-time employees of the CFO.

Young said that city agencies have other workers performing financial functions under direct supervision of agency directors, in addition to the CFO's employees paid by agency budgets. She said Gandhi, who was unavailable for comment, "would probably be open to putting [the imbedded] positions and money in the CFO's budget."

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator