I AM CONFIDENT THAT THIS COUNTRY WILL
NEVER DEFAULT ON ITS DEBT OBLIGATIONS.
EVEN AHEAD OF A SOCIAL SECURITY
PAYMENT, THEY WILL MAKE SURE THAT THESE
BONDS ARE SERVICED
INHERENTLY, THIS COUNTRY IS STRONG,
PEOPLE ARE VERY PRAGMATIC. I WOULD
PUT MY MONEY ON THIS COUNTRY ANY DAY,
EVEN AS DIFFICULT A TIME AS WE ARE
The District of Columbia CFO talks
to Aziz Haniffa about his job, the
economic crisis and more
Natwar M ‘Nat’ Gandhi, chief financial officer, District of Columbia, is now in his 11th year in the job, which makes him the longest-serving Indian-
American CFO and perhaps even the longest-serving CFO
First appointed by Mayor Anthony Williams in June
2000, he served through Williams’ two terms, the one-term
of Mayor Adrian Fenty and now serves in the administra-
tion of Mayor Vincent C Gray — all Democrats.
Gandhi is credited with turning the economic malaise in
DC around when he served Williams, erasing the more
than half a billion-dollar deficit and creating huge surplus-es that have continued through the years and given DC a
AAA rating and made Gandhi the darling of the Congress,
Wall Street and residents, who have seen their home equities rise exponentially in an otherwise adverse housing
market across the country.
It is no secret that Gandhi was tipped to be the director
of the White House Office of Management and Budget, but
was apparently dropped from consideration when a few
months into the Obama administration a major embezzle-
ment fraud was discovered in the DC tax office under his
You are perhaps the longest-serving Indian-American
CFO in any administration. What has made you stick
around for this long?
The CFO in DC is among the most important positions in
the local government anywhere in the country. The CFO
here has extraordinary powers and responsibilities.
Congress established the Control Board here just after the
state of New York did for the city of New York and at that
time they removed all the financial powers and responsibilities from the mayor and the council and put everything
under the CFO. It made him independent of the mayor and
the council. So, the mayor appoints the CFO, the council
confirms the CFO, but the mayor cannot fire the CFO without a cause. He has to have a two-thirds majority of the
council and the decision has to wait on the Hill (Congress)
for 30 days.
This is as independent a CFO you can find anywhere in
the country. You can disagree with the mayor in the morning, (but) you can still be in office that afternoon.
Everywhere else, you’ll be sitting at home. The idea here
was that Congress wanted to assure itself that it wouldn’t
have to worry about the city anymore. The combined $10
billion budget of the city is the responsibility of Congress.
So, when it went basically insolvent in the mid-1990s, by
appointing the Control Board and giving all the power to
the CFO, they made sure the city would always remain
financially viable, would always have a balanced
budget and would access the credit markets.
All the financial people in the city — 1,200 of them —
report to the District’s CFO. So, the CFO in the police
department, the fire department, schools, all report to the
District CFO and not to the police commissioner or mayor
or anyone else. Again, the idea here is the CFO should have
flexibility and all the authority and the power to mange
My term expires in June 2012. At that time, Mayor Gray
will have a chance to appoint his CFO.
This is probably your longest stint after your days at the
Government Accountability Office and your earlier days as
an aide to then Governor Jim Florio of New Jersey and as a
professor. Why didn’t you accept some of the offers to join
the Obama administration?
I find the job of the CFO the most challenging and most
rewarding job of my career. I was offered a few positions in
the Obama administration, basically to run HUD (Housing
and Urban Development) as the chief of staff, to become an
assistant secretary at the Veterans Administration and also
a top job at the commerce department. I met all three sec-
retaries, but at the end of the day, those positions are —
how shall I put it — you are answering to someone. Here,
you don’t have a so-called boss. Of course, you work very
closely with the mayor, with the council, with Congress,
with the administration, particularly OMB, but at the end
of the day, you are independent.