- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi yesterday disputed findings that city officials were inappropriately given $500,000 in questionable cash bonuses last year and said that no awards were paid without authorization required by his agency.

In a letter submitted to D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols, Mr. Gandhi also said that a $15,600 bonus paid to former City Administrator Robert C. Bobb after he resigned to run for school board president last year did not violate city regulations.

“Contrary to the report’s assertion, there is no ‘presumption’ that only active full-time and part-time employees of the District government are eligible for incentive awards,” Mr. Gandhi wrote.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz read Mr. Gandhi’s letter during a public hearing on the findings of Ms. Nichols’ report, which said 28 senior city officials received $525,846 in questionable cash bonuses during the final days of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration.

The report states the bonuses, which were given only 2½ months apart but during two fiscal years, were authorized by top officials but not submitted, reviewed or processed under proper personnel procedures.

Some also were given without a proper employee evaluation or despite the absence of a performance contract and without being reviewed by the D.C. Incentive Awards Committee as required by personnel rules.

In his letter, Mr. Gandhi said that agency CFOs recertified that budget funds were available when the bonuses were paid out — a contradiction to a finding made by Ms. Nichols in the report.

Mr. Gandhi also said that “no bonus payments were disbursed without the required D.C. Forms 27A,” which recommend an employee for a monetary award and are signed by the nominee’s supervisor, the agency director and an agency chief financial officer.

Those documents are the only ones required by the CFO to disburse bonuses, Mr. Gandhi said.

Deputy D.C. Auditor Lawrence I. Perry, who testified in place of Ms. Nichols, who was ill, said his office had repeatedly requested the forms from the Office of Pay and Retirement, which falls under Mr. Gandhi’s authority, and never received them.

But Maryann Young, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gandhi, said that the CFO’s office did have the proper forms and that they were completed before the checks were disbursed. She noted that the report does say the documents were eventually completed.

“That’s what we need before we can release the check,” Ms. Young said.

The auditor’s report also said that the District should attempt to recoup money paid to Mr. Bobb after he resigned from office in the fall of last year.

But Mr. Gandhi said the District’s personnel rules permit the payment to a “former employee … for a contribution made while the individual was an employee for the District government.”

Mrs. Schwartz acknowledged the rules could be open to interpretation and that attempting to recoup the money from Mr. Bobb on a legal basis likely would be unsuccessful.

“I don’t think there would be a legal leg to stand on,” she said.

The office of Attorney General Linda Singer has reviewed the audit but has not decided whether it will seek restitution, a spokeswoman said. The agency will be weighing the CFO’s opinion and also is conducting its own internal review of the bonuses to see whether any D.C. laws were violated.

Brender L. Gregory, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, testified at the hearing and reiterated that her agency is revamping the city’s personnel rules and has frozen bonus payments as of Aug. 31.

Mrs. Schwartz said she will consider crafting emergency legislation to clarify procedures for giving cash bonuses to city officials.

For example, because the bonuses covered by the report were made in two separate payments in fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2006, they did not violate city rules, officials acknowledged yesterday.

Mrs. Schwartz said she will consider imposing firm deadlines for when such awards can be paid and look at clarifying whether former employees can be paid bonuses.

In addition, she requested that Mr. Perry provide her with records of other bonuses given to the city officials earlier in fiscal 2005 to determine whether the payments violated the District’s rules.

“I just think the lesson to be learned here … is that it just didn’t look good,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “It has to pass the smell test.”

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