Alvin C. Frost said yesterday that the key to unlocking the master accounts of the District's complex financial management system has something to do with the Declaration of Independence.
But he can't remember what.
That's a problem for D.C. finance officials because Frost changed the password to the accounts last week and now he says "I can't remember" what the new password is.
He said he could come up with the password if he refers back to the famous document written by Thomas Jefferson.
Frost's gimmick for remembering the password is encoded in the language of the Declaration, he said.
Fred Williams, D.C. assistant treasurer and Frost's boss, confirmed yesterday that he is "concerned" and that nobody yet has figured out how to gain access to the sensitive accounts without the password.
Frost and his supervisors are at war over what his superiors say is a history of insubordination by Frost and, in particular, a letter the 38-year-old cash management analyst wrote Jan. 31 to Mayor Marion Barry.
The letter, reported last week in the press, denounced the Barry administration as corrupt and accused finance officials of improprieties in the awarding of financial services contracts.
On Friday, Frost was informed that the lock on his office had been changed and his personal effects had been boxed for removal. The reason was Frost's refusal to give Williams the new password, which Frost had created five days earlier.
Frost said he changed the code after he discovered that somebody had entered the computer system and made two printouts of his letter to the mayor.
Yesterday Frost was in a new office, his files still in their boxes, no specific duties on his agenda, a letter of reprimand on his desk and phone calls coming in from the inquiring news media.
"I've done three TV interviews today," Frost said late in the afternoon. "I wonder where Channel 7 is."
Frost's job security, Williams and Frost agreed yesterday, is uncertain at this time.
The letter of reprimand, which orders Frost to turn over the code word, ends with this sentence:
"Failure to comply with these orders will force me to take further disciplinary action against you in accordance with [personnel] rules and regulations."
Frost said he had no plans to try to decode the information from the Declaration, but he let slip that the password has seven letters.
Punching a few numbers into a pocket calculator, he reckoned that city cryptographers will be working with a possible pool of roughly 8 billion seven-letter combinations.
"Since I am an imbecile, I certainly couldn't figure it out," said Frost, alluding to Deputy Mayor for Finance Alphonse G. Hill's description of him last week as a "nerd and an imbecile."
The computer contretemps is not likely to foul the city's finances right away, because the master accounts are not crucial in the day-to-day operations, Frost said.
These master accounts, called "super user" accounts and the "manager's" account, are used to tune up the city's Fortune 32-16 computer system and clear out errors.
"This is the type of system that, as problems occur, they tend to build up within the system.
"These little errors build up over time like hardening of the arteries," Frost said. "It will continue to worsen."