- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

A D.C. Council member has asked for an audit of city government salaries, expressing concern that agencies will begin hiding high-paying jobs from scrutiny.

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said she is concerned that city directors will begin hiring workers at salaries just below $100,000 to avoid scrutiny by the council and news outlets.

In a May 16 letter to D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols, Mrs. Schwartz asked for an investigation into the matter.

“I am writing to request that you perform an audit to identify all District employees with annual salaries of at least $90,000 but less than $100,000 in fiscal years 2001 and 2002, and thus far in fiscal year 2003,” Mrs. Schwartz said in the letter.

In an interview Mrs. Schwartz said she is concerned that directors will begin using the same ploy to avoid council scrutiny as they do with contracts. The council exercises oversight of contracts valued at $1 million or more; agencies frequently execute contracts valued at $999,999.

“In light of the fact that the Council and now the media have drawn attention to the growing number of District employees earning at least $100,000 per year, I am concerned that agencies may be intentionally paying some employees salaries just below the $100,000 level to escape Council and public scrutiny,” Mrs. Schwartz said in her letter.

The Times first reported last month that the District has many more city workers earning $100,000 salaries than the much-larger Chicago and 10 times more than Baltimore, a city with a comparable population to the District’s.

With its 572,000 residents, the District has 156 more city workers above $100,000 than Chicago does, which has almost 3 million people. Baltimore has a population of 651,000.

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.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the District’s independent chief financial officer, told The Times on Thursday that he has ordered a salary review of workers in his office and is considering reclassifying some positions to lower their pay.

But he 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.

Mr. Gandhi employs 946 workers, 41 of whom earn more than $100,000. He earns $171,900 a year, one of the highest salaries in the D.C. government.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, told The Times on Friday that he expects to begin investigating the proliferation of six-figure salaries in the District sometime next month.

“Of course accountability is an issue, and we are going to be looking into that,” said Mr. Davis, Virginia Republican and whose committee has oversight of D.C. matters.

A source in the Congressional Research Service said at least one committee is compiling data to investigate the D.C. salaries issue. The source said similar controversies about $100,000-a-year jobs have emerged in Nebraska and New Jersey.

Mr. Gandhi said the key question council members and Mayor Anthony A. Williams should be concerned with is not how many workers are earning high salaries but “what you are getting out of them?”

Last month Mr. Williams said he would review salaries and conduct cost-benefit analyses of the Human Services, Mental Health and Health departments. He appointed City Administrator John A. Koskinen to conduct the review.

But Mr. Koskinen, who is expected to retire by October, told The Times that the review would deal with only “manpower” concerns, not salary issues.

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