- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

The District has a new deputy mayor for operations/city administrator, and his name is John Koskinen. Mr. Koskinen replaces Norman S. Dong, who needed more time with the family. Mr. Dong, you may recall, won a place in D.C. history when, in a moment of understandable frustration, he was accused of assaulting an underling with a clipboard. At the time of that unfortunate incident, Mr. Dong was having a terrible time trying to explain the importance of alphabetizing the directory inside city hall. The city will surely miss Mr. Dong.

While it is unknown whether said clipboard will be handed up to Mr. Koskinen, a "crisis management" specialist, expectations for him are nonetheless high. For 21 years Mr. Koskinen was president of the Palmieri Co., an asset-management firm that specializes in helping businesses and government agencies reorganize themselves. One such institution was the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Co. and another was Mutual Benefit Life Insurance, the largest failed life insurance company in U.S. history. His firm also provides management services to the Resolution Trust Corp. As deputy director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (1994-97), Mr. Koskinen restructured antiquated financial and procurement systems, streamlined the regulatory review process and helped the feds cope with the 1996 government shutdown. From 1998 until quite recently he was the feds' point man on Y2K.

For the most part, Mayor Williams has done an excellent job of setting policies and priorities among his Cabinet. Carrying out those priorities has been more problematic, and it falls to Mr. Koskinen to ensure their execution improves. He has said he finds it useful to employ a sort of quiet leadership and to build consensus rather than mandate and fire folks simply because one has the power to do so.

The work ahead is formidable. The city must turn around its financially ailing health care system, troubled schools and inefficient work force. The mayor also must make several key appointments, including a human services chief and public works director. Moreover, Mayor Williams is under considerable pressure to make sure his reforms are lasting, and that means his brand of reform must include successful resolution to several longstanding court orders.

Mr. Koskinen hopes to turn around the city in two years. One can appreciate the self-appointed deadline. Having lived in the District for decades, Mr. Koskinen surely understands he can take nothing in D.C. government for granted. In the very near future, he might find a to-do list and clipboard very handy.

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