In the seat of extraordinary
powers and responsibilities
Shortly after Dr Natwar Gandhi finished a decade in office as chief financial officer, District of Columbia, he had spoken to Aziz Haniffa about the financial rejuvination of DC.
An excerpt from that interview:
You are perhaps the longest-serving Indian-American CFO
in any administration. What has made you stick around for
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 these finances…
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
Why didn’t you accept some of the offers to join the
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
SPONSORED B Y
A flashback to the time Natwar
Gandhi crossed the 10-year
milestone as chief financial officer of
the District of Columbia.
Natwar Gandhi finds the job of CFO of DC the most
challenging and most rewarding of his career.
I met all three secretaries, but at the end of the day, those
positions are — how shall I put it — you are answering to
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.
How much did the embezzlement that happened in the DC
tax office affect your credibility and integrity?
If you live long in public life in this country, such things
happen all the time.
Even though I have a 5-year tenure, I always say, you take
one day at a time. You never forget that.
The second thing is that the embezzlement was going on
for 20 plus years, long before I was there.