Jack Evans Report
In my last column, I gave a lot of credit to Dr. Natwar Gandhi, the District’s Chief Financial Officer, for his leadership in helping to restore our credit rating. This results in a very real tax dollar savings as we engage in capital projects such as libraries, schools and parks. Dr. Gandhi has been instrumental in overseeing the financial resurrection of the District of Columbia and in generating an overall financial structure for the city that not only has provided annual surpluses but also has infused Wall Street with the confidence to, year-after-year, improve the city’s bond ratings and lower our cost of capital. In light of the comparatively negative financial condition of other major cities in the U.S., this is no trivial accomplishment. For this effort, Dr. Gandhi deserves well-earned praise.
Far too frequently, however, management issues within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer are uncovered that appear — at least to the general public — to indicate that the agency is not being managed well. At times, it appears that the OCFO does not have proper senior management oversight of day-to-day functions and is not operating with proper financial controls. For these reasons, I convened a hearing this week in my oversight capacity as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Finance & Revenue.
As many of you may know, there has been a series of articles in the Washington Post and other news sources raising red flags, such as the recent resignation of the CFO’s internal auditor, allegations that have cast doubt on the background and qualifications of the Chief Assessor, and audit results questioning the strength of internal controls put in place after the Harriet Walters scandal. My objective was to determine what actions have been taken and safeguards implemented to assure that the individuals handling taxpayers’ funds on a daily basis do not have the opportunity to misappropriate funds in the future. It is also critical that these safeguards be reviewed and approved by independent auditors.
My committee took testimony and questioned witnesses for several hours last week. The testimony of the CFO’s former internal auditor was that there is no “smoking gun.” But while no one else is alleged to have stolen any money, there does seem to be an issue with regard to transparency in the OCFO. As a result of this hearing, we will see more disclosure of both the subjects and outcomes of the CFO’s internal audits in the future and a general tone of community engagement by the CFO. As always, I welcome constituent feedback on these and all issues that impact our city.