D.C. Council forces city's CFO into more transparency

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Photo - D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved an emergency measure mandating greater transparency from the city's troubled Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which has see two resignations from top officials in the past month.

The mandate that CFO Natwar Gandhi publicize all internal audits conducted by his department's Office of Integrity and Oversight represents a shift toward greater scrutiny of a public official who until this summer seemingly enjoyed an unshakable reputation.

"The tide has changed," said attorney and former D.C. Councilman Bill Lightfoot. "We're never going back to Gandhi's word is unquestioned."

With little discussion other than from the bill's two co-sponsors, the council unanimously passed legislation that requires Gandhi to keep Mayor Vincent Gray and the council appraised on the progress of all audits and reports conducted by the CFO's internal affairs department and to post the final versions of these audits online.

Gandhi, whose office is independent of the executive and legislative branches, now has to submit reports within 15 days of their completion as well as a quarterly report of ongoing audits and an annual audit plan.

A spokesman for Gandhi said Tuesday that the new mandate from council was "not at all" a burden. But at a hearing last week, Gandhi testified that publicly releasing all the audits would provide a road map "to those interested in exploiting our weaknesses."

One public official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the emergency legislation was less about the content of the audits and more "about winning -- and the public wants to win."

Lightfoot noted that Gandhi "up until this summer" enjoyed a reputation that made him essential to the city maintaining its high bond rating on Wall Street. But he said recent events have created a permanent rift between the CFO and council.

"It's really been the media and members of the public pushing for answers to questions and really expecting ... transparency and disclosure," Lightfoot said.

Tuesday's action came after a hearing last week shed more light on the resignation of Gandhi's chief auditor, William DiVello. DiVello told a council committee that he grew frustrated with what he saw as a regular practice of Gandhi quarantining some of his audits and keeping them from being released within the agency and to council members.

One of those audits sat on Gandhi's desk for six months and pointed out problems in the Office of Tax and Revenue. That office has also recently come under fire after a series of Washington Post articles questioned the rate at which properties were reassessed at lower values this year. On Monday, the head of that office, Tony George, tendered his resignation.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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