- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2000

The District of Columbia has completed only 69 of 280 management-reform projects funded with $293 million in 1998, according to a federal report obtained by The Washington Times.

What's more, city officials committed less than half of the $293 million to proper expenditures for the reform projects and do not know the status of 152 of those projects, the General Accounting Office (GAO) draft report notes.

GAO officials are expected to testify Friday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, which will hold a hearing on the city's management reform.

City officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, also are expected to testify.

"I think the projects were thought out well enough. I think they were [too] ambitious," said Francis S. Smith, executive director of the financial control board, who will testify at Friday's hearing.

The Revitalization Act of 1997 directed the control board and the District to revamp nine major agencies and four citywide functions. It authorized the control board to use surplus funds for the reforms.

"I would say it was not well thought out by Congress and the [control board]," said council member Kathleen Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the government operations committee.

The chief management officer (CMO) was responsible for the 1998 reform programs before ceding that responsibility to Mr. Williams last year. A new management officer has not been named.

"Basically, the issue is this was the CMO's agenda. I can't speak to what the CMO did in 1998," said Norman S. Dong, city administrator and deputy mayor for operations.

"When the mayor got here, he knew that this government was going to be fixed by the [280 projects]," Mr. Dong said, adding that the original projects had vague divisions of accountability.

From August 1999 through March 29, the GAO examined 280 management-reform projects authorized for 1998 and 29 for 1999, 23 of which were carried over from the previous year.

Congress allocated a total of $329 million for the reform projects during the two fiscal years, but $153 million was not committed to specific programs at the end of the fiscal 1998 and $5.7 million was not committed at the end of 1999, the GAO report notes.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, determined that the city and the control board had no process for managing spending for and performance of the projects.

City officials did not know the status of 181 management-reform projects at the end of March.

"We've got a good approach to management. We're starting to deliver the services and we're going to see results," Mr. Dong said, adding that his office knows the status of 29 of the fiscal 1999 reform projects.

The city's past failures with management reform have made skeptics of council members and its chairman. Council members and the mayor wrangled throughout the budget process over how much money the city could spend from management savings.

Mr. Williams said that $37 million for service improvements and neighborhood stabilization would come from reform savings, and some of those budget items are contingent on the city seeing actual savings.

"We know we have got to hit this number, otherwise we can't spend on the new programs," Mr. Dong said. "We're going to get there. We have to get there."

The council's Committee on Government Operations criticized the speed and focus of the reform process after 1998 and noted that some funds were on operational expenses, instead of on reform.

"It sounds like we haven't done a good job of tracking the projects or the money," Mrs. Patterson said, adding that with personnel changes in the control board, the administration and city agencies, there is no vested interest in continuing the 1998 reforms.

In 1999 the Office of Budget and Planning released its own report logging some mistakes made in the reform efforts.

For example, the Office of Personnel in 1998 earmarked $2 million to create a compensation and classification system, according to a city report. However, $1.4 million of the funds went to renovating the office, including new furniture and partitions. The personnel office requested an additional $2 million the following year.

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