- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The embattled director of the District’s nearly $80 million HIV/AIDS Administration was fired yesterday after just one year on the job.

Lydia Watts leaves her short but troubled tenure amid questions over the agency’s handling of federal funds and its increasingly tense relations with treatment providers.

Dr. Gregg A. Pane, director of the D.C. Department of Health, did not cite specific reasons for his decision to replace Miss Watts yesterday, saying only that “change was needed.”

“New leadership was needed to take us to the next level,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision, and I appreciate all that has been done so far.”

Dr. Pane said officials have not yet decided on a replacement, but one could be announced within a week.

Miss Watts, previously a health policy director for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the council’s Committee on Health, said yesterday the HIV/AIDS Administration has struggled for years with paying providers on time.

“Unfortunately, these and other challenges to the planningand delivery of vital services failed to turn around under Ms. Watts’ watch,” he said.

Mr. Catania previously has described the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration as “a 20-year-old broken horse.”

Miss Watts was hired in August 2004, but within months she came under criticism for her decision to spend more than $400,000 for promotional activities for a World AIDS Day event in December. At the time, service providers were complaining of cutbacks.

“These were my choices, and I can’t go back on my choices,” Miss Watts told the D.C. Council at a hearing in March.

Concern also has surfaced recently over the HIV/AIDS Administration’s performance in overseeing tens of millions of dollars in federal funds.

The D.C. Office of the Inspector General in March disclosed that an ongoing inquiry found that some HIV/AIDS Administration employees did not know the addresses of the grant recipients they were supposed to monitor.

In May, problems worsened when several HIV/AIDS providers, including the renowned Whitman-Walker Clinic, publicly complained that they were not getting paid on time.

Earlier this month, the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Inc. in a report criticized the District’s response to HIV/AIDS as ineffective.

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