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Blank Check: Mayor's Response

Williams Says D.C. Has Grip on Finances

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By Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

Mayor Anthony Williams said yesterday that he welcomes investigation of city contracting and spending practices, noting that there are problems but that financial controls are much better than they were a decade ago.

Speaking at his weekly news conference, the mayor criticized recent articles in The Washington Post as "misleading and on the border of irresponsible."

In stories published Sunday and Monday, The Post detailed contracting violations by city officials, including spending taxpayer money without contracts through "direct vouchers" and allowing favored contractors to bid on D.C. business without competition. Out of $2.5 billion in purchases last year, the city spent about $425 million in unauthorized payments and no-bid contracts, The Post reported.

Williams said he took issue with the implication that the city still had deep-seated financial problems. When it came to specific examples named in the stories, he said, "old and outdated as they may have been, [they] are cause for concern and alarm."

"I don't want to be defensive and I don't want to say there aren't any problems," the mayor said. "I do want to say we should be balanced and fair."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, said Monday that he would ask the General Accounting Office and his committee to look into the city's spending patterns.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) called the spending outlined in the stories "disgusting" and said she had asked for D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols to investigate. Council members Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) have said they will hold hearings on spending problems.

At the news conference, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said the Post stories showed a "reckless disregard for the facts" and that he was "angry and appalled" at the "wild, wild allegations."

The District has made great improvements since being near bankruptcy and in fiscal disarray a decade ago, he said, and now has "financial credibility of the highest order." The city has had balanced budgets for nine consecutive years, he pointed out, adding, "We are now the toast of Wall Street."

Williams said he had asked for a review of contracting and spending problems by Deputy Mayor Herbert R. Tillery, who has been interim head of the city's contracting office for the past 15 months. Tillery said his office is reviewing no-bid contracts and preparing a written report for the city council.

In response to The Post's findings, Gandhi's office said that in October it instituted new reports to monitor and eliminate the use of payments by direct vouchers, which circumvent normal approvals.

The Post's examination, which relied on thousands of documents, including a database that lists every dollar the city spent over the past five years, found that officials paid out $225 million last year through improper direct vouchers.

When he was the city's chief financial officer a decade ago, Williams forbade improper use of direct vouchers.

Gandhi yesterday contradicted one account in the newspaper articles, saying that his office had written a contract with GTech Corp. to run the network connecting the city's lottery terminals. The city paid the company more than $1 million in the past year.

In an interview Oct. 14, Gandhi's contracting director, Eric Payne, said that a contract number had been assigned for GTech but "that contract was never completed . . . that never happened." Payne said his staff was working at the time to create a contract.


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