- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who oversees a department where 41 employees earn more than $100,000, said yesterday he has ordered a salary review of his workers and is considering reclassifying some positions to lower the pay.

“I will not hesitate to reduce salaries,” Mr. Gandhi told The Washington Times. “We have started looking into this.”

But Mr. Gandhi defended the high pay in his department, saying top salaries are necessary to entice highly skilled professionals, such as his office accountants and managers, to work for the District.

“I don’t think you ought to be obsessed with this notion of $100,000,” Mr. Gandhi said. “The important question is not that this many people are making that kind of money. The question is, what are you getting out of them?”

Mr. Gandhi’s salary study comes in response to reports that first appeared in The Times last month detailing the proliferation of six-figure salaries in the D.C. government. The District has more workers earning $100,000-plus salaries than Chicago, a city with nearly 3 million residents, and Baltimore, a city similar in size to the District, with 651,000 residents. The District has 572,000 residents.

Of the District’s 34,000 city employees, 575 make more than $100,000 a year. In comparison, 419 of Chicago’s 40,000 city workers and 33 of Baltimore’s 15,000 city workers earn that much.

The D.C. government also has more top-dollar earners than Delaware and Vermont — two states with median household incomes similar to the District’s. Delaware, with a population of 783,600, has a state work force of 36,303 and 194 workers earning more than $100,000. Vermont, with 608,827 residents, has 8,282 state jobs and 48 workers earning more than $100,000.

“It ought to be looked into,” Mr. Gandhi said of the number of six-figure salaries in the D.C. government.

Mr. Gandhi earns $171,900 a year, making him the fourth-highest-paid D.C. employee. Mr. Gandhi is the director of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO), which manages the city’s $5.75 billion budget.

He said results of his department’s salary study are due next month. The study is being conducted by Mr. Gandhi’s chief of staff, Lucille Dickinson, who earns $108,626.

In addition to Mr. Gandhi and Miss Dickinson, 39 other department employees earn six-figure salaries, including Chief Financial Officer for Treasury Anthony Calhoun at $128,332 and Infrastructure Program Manager Ralph S. Howell at $100,827.

Mr. Gandhi’s office is the fourth D.C. department slated for a salary review since initial report in The Times on the salaries. Last month, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he would review the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health, and the Department of Health.

Mr. Williams appointed City Administrator John A. Koskinen to conduct the review. But Mr. Koskinen, who is expected to resign in October, later said any review would deal only with “manpower” concerns, not salary issues.

Mr. Koskinen’s remark drew sharp criticism from Republican congressional leaders, including Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Several members of Congress said last week they would look into it.

Mr. Gandhi said he would reclassify high-paying jobs to reduce salaries if the study determines that the pay scale does not correspond with job responsibilities.

The OCFO’s bosses, who are classified as Management Supervisor Service, have salary levels tied to federal standards. But reclassifying those posts would make salary adjustments possible, Mr. Gandhi said.

He said he has already cut his staff to 946 employees from 1,013 last year. He plans to further reduce his staff to 930 in fiscal 2004. He cut the budget for his office from $83.7 million in fiscal 2003 to a proposed $82.5 million for fiscal 2004.

Defending the high pay in his department, Mr. Gandhi said he is desperately searching for five new chief financial officers who would oversee the problem-plagued budgets of such departments as public schools and child services.

“It is not easy to find people to work here. Take my word for it,” Mr. Gandhi said. “People with excellent reputations come here, and at the end of the day they wonder what happened to them.”

A doctor of accounting who has worked as an auditor for the U.S. General Accounting Office, a corporate consultant and a university professor, Mr. Gandhi said his salary is low by corporate standards. Nevertheless, he said he wouldn’t trade public service for a $500,000 job with IBM. However, he does earn more than his counterparts in Baltimore, Delaware and Vermont.

Baltimore Director of Finance Peggy Watson earns $119,700 to manage the city’s $2.2 billion budget; Delaware’s Budget Director Jennifer W. Davis makes $113,400 overseeing the state’s $2.4 billion budget; and Vermont Finance Commissioner Robert Hoffman makes $77,001 managing the state’s $3.37 billion budget.

Mr. Gandhi said it was cheaper to live in Wilmington, Del., than in the District, where the average price of a house is $450,000, he said. He said Vermont has virtues besides money to attract talented public servants.

“Vermont is an idyllic place. … People leave their high-stress corporate job to be farmers in Vermont,” Mr. Gandhi said. “But try to get them to work here and become the chief financial officer of the District public schools — it’s the challenge of a lifetime.”

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