Despite a sharp drop in the rate of disability retirements by District of Columbia police and firefighters, the House Appropriations Committee has told the city to look at past retirements and take steps "to end abuses and correct errors" made in those cases.
"The committee is not satisfied that the District is managing the (retirement) program effectively or has put an end to the opportunities for abuse by current or retired employes," the committee said in a formal report that will accompany the city's 1980 budget to the House floor next week.
The proposed budget, approved Thursday by the committee, would cut the federal payment to the city to $191.15 million, the lowest level in 15 years, and reduce the city's spending program by $78 million below the requested level.
For the second year in a row, the committee voted to enforce its directive to correct pension abuses by cutting funds for the retirement program, this time by $5 million. Last year, it cut the fund by $10 million.
Restoration of full funding will come, the committee said, "only after the city demonstrates improvements in program administration and visible progress toward bringing the system in line with other cities" that are less generous.
Last year's cut followed disability retirements by three high-ranking police and fire officials, including former police chief Maurice J. Cullinane, who had suffered a painful knee injury during an antiwar demonstration in 1969.
Cullinane, who received a tax-free $31,500 annual pension, promptly took a job with the D.C. Bankers Association.
In its report, the committee said - without mentioning a name - that one retiree reported an income of $44,000 in addition to a tax-free disability pension. A staff member said the committee was told by the city that the identity of the pensioner was confidential.
"Retirement benefits should not reward individuals who 'retire' and then go out and find another job in order to enjoy two incomes," the committee said. "Most importantly, compensation for disabilities must recognize the particular circumstances of each case and should not give financial incentives to beat the system."
The committee report was prepared by its D.C. subcommittee, which conducted an inquiry last year following reports in The Washington Post of the continued high incidence of disability pensions here, especially when compared with other big cities.
In 1969, disability retirements represented 98 percent of the total. From 1973 and 1977, the figure ranged between 55 and 62 percent.
Following the congressional pressure, the committee said, "there are signs that the flagrant abuses . . . have been brought under control and that District officials are taking this matter seriously."
In 1978, the city reported, disability retirements dropped to 44 percent. In the first four months of this year, the figure dropped to 19 percent, the committee said. But it said the high number of past retirees makes the program excessively costly.
A Committee aide said the cut in the pension fund would not affect the payment of benefits to those now on the retirement rolls.