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The only way the District government knows how to fix a problem is to throw more money at it. Even as the city enters a new millennium and nears the end of a congressionally created quasi-receivership under the financial control board, the proverbial paradigm has not shifted. Want a clean audit on time? Spend mo’ money.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Natwar Gandhi and Comptroller Anthony Pompathe latest mo’-money acolytesdecided that the only way to get the city’s fiscal year 2000 audit out by the legally required Feb. 1 deadline and be certain of a clean opinion was to spend $1 million. That’s $1 million just to get ready for the actual audit, for which the inspector general is paying $2.6 million
to KPMG LLP.
The CFO has hired three different consulting firms and one secretarial service. A fourth company is helping to install new software, which employees may or may not be able to use. (Earlier this year, the CFO abandoned the use of the city’s computerized personnel and payroll system, known as CAPPS. And, throughout last year’s torturous rendering of the fiscal 1999 audit, there were reports that dozens of finance employees were getting headaches trying to figure out how to operate the city’s computerized financial accounting system. Most had passed up the training sessions.)
Among the firms lapping up tax dollars courtesy of the CFO is Thompson Cobb Bazilio & Associates PC (TCBA), which is being paid $200,000 to deal with cash reconciliation. Bert Smith & Co. is getting a slightly higher amount$353,000reportedly also to handle cash reconciliation. (And here LL thought Jeff Thompson, a principal with TCBA and a political operative, was so well-plugged-in to the District’s consultant feeding machine.) Woodside Temporaries already has been paid $32,000 to perform clerical work, say officials in the CFO’s office.
For a fee of $324,000, Williams Adley & Co. is assisting the in-house finance staff at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) with producing auditable books. Last year, the school’s finances were in such disarray that auditors eventually cried uncle, leaving UDC without any audit at all. And Gregory Holloway, who led the team of independent auditors in producing the fiscal 1999 report, has gone out and started his own firmHolloway and Co. According to the contract, Holloway’s new operation may earn up to $200,000 to help install and personalize the city’s computerized Universal Accounts Receivable system.
“Cash reconciliation was a mess last year,” explains Pompa. “That was the thing that delayed the CAFR [Comprehensive Audit and Financial Report]. For fiscal 2000, we had a lot of catching up to do. It was May, and nothing had been done.”
Under the previous CFO, Valerie Holt, the city’s fiscal year 1999 audit wasn’t released until April 2000, by which time even her patron, control board Chair Alice Rivlin, had quietly joined the chorus of District officialsthe D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williamssinging the “Girl must go, quick, fast, in a hurry” refrain. Holt was sent packingsort of: Her patron managed to get her detailed to the U.S. Department of Labor; District taxpayers picked up the tab.
When Gandhi was appointed, he was warned that if the audit weren’t released on time, he would be out of a job. Under further pressure, Gandhi had to ensure a clean opinionmeaning that the District is in the blackeven if finance officials aren’t sure how the city got there and are having a poor time tracking files and cash.
“There was so much at risk,” says Pompa. “We had to get the audit out on time. To tell you the truth, not succeeding was not an option.”
Meanwhile, the city’s mo’-money, rent-a-government approach, first introduced by former CFO Williams, continues to camouflage weaknesses in its financial-management systems. Government sources say the CFO, the mayor, and the control board have not focused during the past seven months on much-needed repairs to the fiscal infrastructure outlined in the management letter written by last year’s auditors. The management letter exposed the true abysmal state of affairs in the District’s internal operations.
“We didn’t get the [fiscal 1999] management letter until June ,” says Pompa. “There wasn’t a whole lot of time to remediate.”
LL has to ask: Is this any way to run a $5
SAVING SOULS…ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK
The District government may have neglected a lot of things regarding its care of mentally ill citizens, but at least their spiritual well-being is not one of them. The Commission on Mental Health Services has in its employ eight staff chaplains, two “consultant” chaplains, and several trainees. Ministering to the sick has turned into a pretty lucrative business. Let the church say “Amen.”
The commission’s chaplains represent many faiths, including Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Methodists, American Baptists, and Progressive National Baptists. (Americans and Progressives aren’t members of the same association, although it’s the same Hallelujah all the time). Regular staff chaplains can earn up to $61,000, and chaplain training officers make as much as $72,758, according to Linda Grant, the spokesperson for the commission. The chaplain director has a salary of $101,142; Grant says he has concurrent “managerial” duties. Services of a rabbi and an imam are purchased at a rate of $50 per hour. “The rabbi visits up to three hours a week and the imam for two hours a week,” Grant says. Stipends of up to $19,892 are paid to the two trainees from these denominations.
Grant says chaplains must have postgraduate degrees and appropriate certification, and they must have been ordained or have at least 12 months accredited clinical pastoral education. They must also have satisfactory experience functioning as a religious professionalwhatever that means. She says chaplains are assigned to all inpatient units at St. Elizabeths Hospital and “to the extent possible, provide services in community-based outpatient programs.”
By comparison, the D.C. Department of Corrections has on its staff three chaplains to cover its four facilities. The salary range for corrections chaplains is from $53,343 to $59,621. Department spokesperson Darryl Madden says that three other chaplains are paid by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to serve the Lorton community. The corrections department also maintains a long list of volunteers.
LL can pray with the best of them, and certainly no one will argue that patients at St. Elizabeths don’t need the opportunity to worship. But the folks at the Commission on Mental Health Services may want to take a page from the Corrections Department book. Why must District taxpayers foot the bill? Whatever happened to the clergy providing care to the sick and the shut-in simply because they were called to serve God and spread the gospel?
COMING SOON TO A SCHOOL NEAR YOU
This letter leaves even LL speechless:
District of Columbia Public Schools
Office of the General Counsel
Labor Management and Employee Relations
November 16, 2000
Dear Ms. [name withheld]:
On June 23, 2000, you were informed by letter that you would not receive an offer of employment with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) based on the results of your criminal background check. Based on your subsequent presentation of documentation that your 1984 charge for Uniformed Controlled Substance Act, Cannabis was no papered; that your 1984 charge for shoplifting was nolle prosequi; that your 1984 charge for assault with a dangerous weapon, razor was no papered; that your 1984 charge for destruction of government property was nolle prosequi; that your 1986 charge for assault with a deadly weapon was dismissed; that your 1987 charge for soliciting for prostitution was nolle prosequi; that your 1989 charge for assault with a dangerous weapon, razor was no papered; and that your 1992 Uniform Controlled Substance Act, possession with intent to distribute cocaine was dismissed. You are eligible for employment with DCPS.
If you have any questions or concerns, kindly contact Labor Management and Employee Relations at (202) 442-5373.
Acting Director of Human Resources
Employee Services and Staffing
Office of the General Counsel
Labor Management and Employee Relations
Division of Security
Official Personnel File
Jonetta Rose Barras
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.