Jeff DeWitt, CFO nominee, prepares for public grilling

October 22, 2013
DeWitt, right, has served since 2009 as the chief financial officer for Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
DeWitt, right, has served since 2009 as the chief financial officer for Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

On Wednesday morning, the District’s chief-financial-officer-in-waiting appears before the D.C. Council for his first and only public job interview. Jeffrey S. DeWitt goes under the klieg lights as an unknown quantity to District lawmakers and residents, having spent nearly his entire professional career in Phoenix.

DeWitt’s appearance will be preceded by the testimony of a dozen scheduled public witnesses — led by search captains Alice M. Rivlin and Anthony A. Williams; ace real-estate tax lawyer Tanja Castro; Chamber of Commerce doyenne Barbara Lang; and a bevy of critics of current CFO Natwar M. Gandhi, including former Council member Bill Lightfoot and whistleblower Eric Payne.

As for DeWitt, he previewed his testimony in written answers to questions furnished by the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. His 24 answers over nine pages are detailed — meticulous, even — and offer an early look at his approach toward one of the city’s most powerful jobs.

A sampling:

Q: If confirmed to the position of the Chief Financial Officer, how would you fulfill your duties to the District if these obligations conflict with policy direction taken by the Executive branch?

A: … [E]fforts should always be taken to work cooperatively with the elected officials, whether it is the Mayor or the Council of the District of Columbia. When a policy of the Executive branch conflicts with the CFO’s duties, a respectful and candid dialog should occur to understand the goals and objectives of the policy direction. … As the CFO for the City of Phoenix, on numerous occasions I would point out issues and concerns about policies or plans of the elected officials that were not financially viable. In all cases I worked to find alternative solutions. When a policy direction is ultimately found to negatively impact the financial health and credit of the District, I would be obligated and willing to hold a firm position.

Q: What are your five greatest concerns with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and what is your plan to deal with each?

A: … The areas of focus would be related to the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), specifically tax liens, system or technology replacement and possible changes to the tax structure that are being evaluated. The second area would be revenue generation from the District Lottery system. A third area would be effective coordination between the agency CFO and the specific agencies. The fourth and fifth area would be related to the status of technology and transparency of information. …

Q: As Chief Financial Officer, how would you respond to concerns in the community?

A. … Community involvement is a major element in Phoenix. For example, we have over 20 public budget hearings each year to gather public input on budget issues. Our general obligation bond programs have included up to 700 citizen participants to set the priority of capital programs that are monitored by over 30 citizen leaders, selected from the initial group during the duration of the projects. … The level of community involvement would depend on the issue and would be discussed and coordinated with the Mayor and Council of the District of Columbia. Regardless, I would work to establish a culture that would allow the community to give regular feedback to continuously improve the customer service levels of the OCFO.

Q: Please explain why this role appeals to you. How does it compare to other opportunities you have pursued or are pursuing?

A: The CFO position for the District of Columbia is one of the top public sector finance positions in the country. … As a person who has been in public service most of my career beginning with military service out of high school to pay for college, college internships with the State of Illinois, to nearly 25 years of service with the City of Phoenix, moving to Washington, D.C. and serving in the role of the CFO would be the pinnacle of public service. As a person who loves U.S. History and is dedicated to public service, there really is no comparison to this opportunity.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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Mike DeBonis · October 22, 2013