Natwar Gandhi is today recognized as a master of urban finance.
The District of Columbia has gone from a fiscal embarrassment
to one of the most solidly financed jurisdictions in the country, says
Natwar Gandhi, who recently annou- nced his retirement as chief financial officer of the District of Columbia, leaves the capital city of the United Statesinfarbetterfiscalshape than he
found it in.
The one-time accounting student from a village in
Gujarat earned widespread admiration for his skill
in transforming the financial condition of the city of
Washington and is a recognized leader in urban
finance in his adopted country.
Although Washington is the capital of a wealthy
nation, the city itself has a weak tax base and a history of fiscal miss-management.
In 1995, the city was virtually bankrupt and the
federal government had to come to its rescue. As
budget director in President Bill Clinton’s administration at the time, I was charged with finding a way
to put the city back on its fiscal feet.
We knew a temporary bail-out would not suffice.
We had to make a lasting institutional change and
install stronger financial leadership. So, we created
a new position — an independent chief financial
officer with major powers and responsibilities.
Gandhi was recruited by the first CFO, Anthony
Williams, to straighten out the struggling tax
administration of the city, but was promoted to CFO
in 2000 soon after Williams became mayor.
Under Gandhi’s leadership, the city has gone from
a fiscal embarrassment to one of the most solidly
financed jurisdictions in the country. It now has a
strong fund balance, an excellent credit rating, and
its financial management systems have gone from
creaky and inadequate to modern and informative.
Professional tax collection has enabled the improvement of public services.
Gandhi has overseen the financing of major economic development projects, including a handsome
new baseball stadium, and neighborhoods are
reviving all over the city.
As Gandhi leaves his challenging post, he should
feel a strong sense of satisfaction at a job well done.
Residents of Washington should be grateful for
his hard work on their behalf, and the Indian-American community should be proud of his contributions. ;
Alice Rivlin served as director, Office of Management and Budget (becoming the first woman to
hold the Cabinet-level position), and as vice chair,
Federal Reserve, during the Bill Clinton administration. She also served in President Barack Obama’s
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and
Reform. She is currently visiting professor, Georgetown Public Policy Institute, and senior fellow, economic studies, The Brookings Institution.
‘My turnaround partner’
respect for the District before the US
Congress and has received consistent praise
from the District’s congressional oversight
committees for his contributions to the
District’s financial performance.
Anthony Williams served as the first
chief financial officer of the District of
Columbia. He also served as a two-term
mayor of the District.
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