SIMMONS: Dealing with D.C.’s cloudy fiscal future

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To the Honorable Darrell E. Issa and Elijah E. Cummings:

As chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, respectively, your plate is always full because your committee’s taut mission statement is to ensure an “efficient, effective government” on the national and D.C. level, which you also oversee.

Financially, the nation’s capital is doing fairly well, and D.C. officials were wise to bolster the city’s piggybank with new surplus dollars — a bank account largely tied to legislative actions initiated by the House in 1995.

But it’s not so much the present that leads me to directly address you; it’s the cloudy future.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray is an Obama Democrat, spending and contracting troubles are mounting, and Natwar M. Gandhi, the fiscally conservative shepherd of the District’s purse strings, will be retiring around the time the city’s fiscal 2014 budget is in your hands.

Now, let me quickly dispense with doom-and-gloom prospects, because at this juncture it doesn’t appear that the city will again go broke, despite the progressive tendencies to pour local and federal dollars over liberal policies that simply don’t reform anything — whether it is welfare or job training, homelessness or health care, or substance addiction or education reform.

A case in point is school reform. Federal education officials informed the District just last week that the city has failed to implement federally funded programs that would track student and teacher performance from one year to the next.

Messrs. Issa and Cummings, you know of Mr. Gandhi’s reputable expertise.

Your committee, and others on Capitol Hill, have used his definitive frankness to explore the true state of the District on many fronts, including the ramifications of easing building height and density restrictions, and Wall Street’s views of the city’s financial strengths and weaknesses.

Even D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, has leaned on Mr. Gandhi’s calculations and projections as leverage to argue what impact, if any, the “fiscal cliff,” continuing resolutions and the $85 billion federal sequestration cuts would have on the city.

It is my hope that the fact that he is on his way out is given great weight when you begin deliberating the city’s upcoming budget, particularly such issues as:

Transportation. In recent years, much of the District’s focus has been on placating bicyclists, pedestrians and streetcar enthusiasts, while motorists take a back seat. But regional authorities, having long neglected mass-transit upgrades and routine maintenance, are now expecting federal dollars as Plan A for Metro. Question whether the District is “efficient and effective” from a commerce point of view.

Contracting and procurement. Medicaid and other health care contracts, internal incompetency and overregulation are serious problems. Who’s accountable?

The federal laws that oversee the chief financial officer, a post the House established, put the CFO between a liberal rock and a very hard place.

Consider, by way of example, the city’s liberal social practices that Congress occasionally takes an interest in.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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