- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

In March, this newspaper began writing about the large number of D.C. workers who earn executive-style pay. The Washington Post has been reporting on the questionable spending practices at the Sports and Entertainment Commission, whose executive director earns $275,000. Yesterday, The Washington Times reported that Rep. Tom Davis and Sen. George Voinovich, chairmen of two panels that have D.C. oversight, are planning hearings to ensure the city is getting its money’s worth. “I don’t have a quarrel with the number of high-priced employees if they are producing good results,” Mr. Davis said, “But that’s not the case here. The fact is the D.C. government nibbles around the edge of problems, when what it really needs is some major surgery.” We agree.

When the city was flush with surpluses, Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council handed out jobs and raises to the left and the right, and increased spending for schools and entitlements. All the while, they said they were reforming government. Many of the changes were merely cosmetic. Here’s an example: The Department of Public Works is now three agencies — Public Works, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles. So, instead of one high-priced director with three high-priced deputies, there now are three high-priced directors with three high-priced deputies — and each has its own public information officer, chief financial officer, contracting officer, etc., etc., etc. It’s precisely that type of bloat that landed the District in deep financial troubles in the 1990s.

Then, there are agencies such as D.C. Public Schools, which spends money as it pleases, Human Services, which habitually blows its budgets, and Sports and Entertainment, whose operating funds depend mostly on revenues drawn from events at RFK Stadium-Armory Complex. The commission’s No. 1 job is to help bring baseball back to Washington. Yet, that hardly was the intent of its creation back in the mid-1990s, and, as The Post has been reporting, there are local and federal investigations into that agency’s spending practices, including an ethics probe. In such instances, the question for the mayor and council is a simple one: Does the city need a Sports and Entertainment Commission?

Fortunately, the mayor and the council are reviewing the salaries and manpower situations of D.C. government, so it seems their concerns are in sync with those of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. (See the letter by city manager John Koskinen to the right.) Not all lawmakers agree, however. The District’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has said Congress should not get involved.

We beg to differ. Our concern rests not in whether a city worker is making $40,000 or $140,000. Our concern is whether that worker is earning his salary. The median household income in the District is $40,127. To know that hundreds of managers are making two and three times as much and, some cases, even more than the mayor, is as worthy of discussion in City Hall as it is on Capitol Hill. We urge Mrs. Norton to prepare for the discussions.

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