[from August 2007 issue]


It is without question incumbent on all of us, whether in the news business or simply regular citizen-taxpayers to keep a watchful eye on how our politicians and bureaucrats spend our money –- money which most of us only begrudgingly give over to the city treasury.

There has been much discussion and reporting over the past many months not only in this commentator’s space, in letters to the editor, and in our news stories, but everywhere else –- from the Post and the Times to blogs, to impassioned exchanges on various listservs. What all this should make clear to our city government’s leaders is that there is a growing groundswell of justified and quite knowledgeable skepticism about how our tax dollars are being spread around.

And, while the mega-“bread and circus” projects seem to get the most attention, there is another huge area of concern that has not been adequately addressed. We are referring to the city’s payroll. While it is true that there has been much justifiable criticism about outrageously high, padded salaries and bonuses paid to high-visibility bureaucrats, the aspect of the payroll costs that grabs our attention at this point in time has more to do with the middle management.

It is in middle management that we are convinced lurks the biggest fiscal drain. This is largely hidden because these people do not command attention, except in rare instances when one of them performs so outrageously that we even learn they are on our payroll and then we wonder why are we paying such people. That very emotionally disturbed administrative law judge who so nicely succeeded in making the District of Columbia an international laughing stock over his bizarre and frivolous pants lawsuit comes to mind. (Why there has been any doubt within the bureaucracy about reappointing him we have no idea; he should have been canned forthwith for bringing such disrepute on our city.)

If we are going to insist on paying employees generously –- and they do get compensated very well between actual salaries and benefits, plus they have far greater job security than most ordinary workers who are not so fortunate to have a DC job –- then we must demand that they perform 100 percent and return to us true value for what we pay them,

Unfortunately, too many only give 50 percent (maybe even less). We must insist they shape up or ship out. Over the past umpteen years that we have dealt with DC employees we have encountered many who were/are definitely worth every dime we pay them. We despair that their dedication is not properly recognized by their superiors. But we too often encounter the slackers and suspect that their bosses may also be slackers. The only way these matters will ever get worked out is for the top leadership –- Mayor Fenty -– to address this issue directly in the same way he is willing to address the schools issues. We need him to realize that personnel problems are not to be found in the school system alone.

We do have some degree of hope that the Mayor may be trying to tackle this problem by seeking to appoint persons of unusual managerial and leadership talent to head the agencies and departments. It is too early to know if all his appointees will be of sufficient caliber and have sufficient drive and abilities to reform personnel issues inside their bailiwicks. If they are really good they will weed out the dregs and by virtue of their own drive and initiative and leadership acumen get greater productivity out of a leaner workforce and end up helping the city reduce its astronomical personnel costs.

An example of the kind of stellar appointee we hope the Mayor will tap more of is his recent appointment of Clark Ray to take over the troubled and long dysfunctional parks and recreation department. Ray is exactly the kind of manager who will give back enormous value to us taxpayers by his service. He has already proven his worth to us through his previous city government positions in which he was always out in the communities solving problems and ensuring results. He listens, takes in and analyses quickly what needs to be done and then does it. That’s our kind of public servant –- a non bureaucratic manager who takes pride in working for the little people of this world.

So, we say to the Mayor, if you can find more Clark Rays both for the top jobs and also for the middle management jobs then we may be able to begin the process of streamlining our personnel overload and bring savings through greater productivity and lower overall costs by virtue of reducing the workforce to a more realistic level. Having said this, however, we would also like to know if this expanded education bureaucracy you have created to which you are apparently going to add 400 new jobs is going to duplicate what is already being done by the hundreds of school system non-instructional employees? If so, then all bets are off.

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