- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

"The three-month delay experienced by the District in producing the FY 1999 CAFR [Comprehensive Annual Financial Report] was neither an ordinary nor an excusable event. We must treat it as a wake-up call. This was a warning that problems with the system itself and the District management be addressed immediately," said Alice Rivlin, who seems to have awakened from her own nearly two-year nod as chairman of the financial control board.

"The financial news is not as good as it ought to be," she continued. "The difficult process of bringing the CAFR to closure with an unqualified opinion, and the problems associated with the [Public Benefits Corporation] and [the University of the District of Columbia], have revealed serious shortcomings in people and in financial systems that must be fixed."

The three-page, single-spaced document, which offers a harsh assessment of the operation of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, under Mrs. Rivlin's protg Valerie Holt, is unprecedented. Never in the history of the congressionally created control board has the chairman made a statement about the city's annual audit. And never in the history of the city has the audit been released in the proverbial dead of night; Miss Holt sent parts of the CAFR out to the press on a Saturday afternoon. As of Thursday, the full report still hasn't been disseminated. Government sources say the sneaky, piecemeal release was because District officials didn't want to face the bevy of media questions about the delay and Miss Holt's status as chief financial officer (CFO).

The CAFR by law should have been released on Feb. 1, 2000. Miss Holt had said it would be ready by March 15. But that deadline came and went. Were it not for the 11th-hour rescue by former CFO Earl Cabbell, it is likely the CAFR still would be held hostage to Miss Holt's incompetence, failed management and disastrous leadership. The true picture of the chaotic financial management system under Miss Holt will be presented later this month when the auditors from Mitchell & Titus release their Management Letter, and the Report on Internal Controls and Compliance with Laws and Regulations.

While the city posted an $86 million operating surplus, no one should celebrate. Trouble still looms. Reached at his office on Monday, D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said he stands by the legislature's resolution calling for Miss Holt's firing and hopes "that the mayor and the control board will act quickly to put in place a new CFO.

"We are seven months into a new fiscal year and most of the problems [experienced in preparation of the fiscal 1999 CAFR] still are unresolved," he added. "This viewpoint is supported by everything I heard in the control board meeting last Wednesday."

Mrs. Rivlin hopes to avert a repeat of the fiscal 1999 disaster. She has asked for a report on the problems and a plan for executing the fiscal 2000 audit. This is suspect, since the person writing the evaluation is the same person who impeded progress, refused to implement preventive measures urged by her staff, disputed staff conclusions critical to cash reconciliation, and essentially acted as a humongous obstacle: Valerie Holt.

Mr. Evans' and other council members' hopes for a more qualified CFO perhaps Natwar Gandhi, who was passed over when the mayor acquiesced to political considerations instead of proven management experience and excellence may be dashed. Government sources say Mayor Anthony Williams has been urged not to fire Miss Holt because she is black and a woman. This madness, and the mayor's desire to curry favors with Mrs. Rivlin, won Miss Holt the appointment in the first place; it certainly couldn't have been her talent or skills since there was documented evidence of her role in the District's financial decline.

Retaining an incompetent in a position because of race or gender is ludicrous. Further, every African-American woman should be personally offended. Using an unqualified person as a symbol of the group's potential can only call into question the capabilities of every black woman who presents herself for a top-level post. This keep-them-there-because-they're-black attitude is the kind of warped thinking that plagued the District for nearly 20 years. My cultural nationalist friends will hold up the "White-man-did-it card" to legitimize their advocacy. But it was wrong then, and it's wrong now. And, as in the past, the real victims of this misguided professional ethic are poor people, most of whom in the District are African-American.

Mr. Williams and Mrs. Rivlin are supposed to usher in a new day, where merit reigns supreme and people are held accountable for their successes and their failures. Anyone who can't handle a position should be replaced with someone who can. For the past year, and more acutely the last four months, it's been transparently clear, Miss Holt is not up to the task. And this fact won't change, even if she suddenly became a white man.

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