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Trying Times for Dixon : Leading Backer of D.C. Self-Rule Accuses Officials of Deceiving Congress on Finances

March 26, 1995

The past few weeks have been among the most trying in the long political career of U.S. Rep. Julian C. Dixon, the Los Angeles Democrat. As chairman of the House District Appropriations Committee until Republicans claimed control of the House in January, Dixon had been the leading proponent for helping D.C. achieve self-rule. Toward that end, he engineered a massive $100-million grant for the district in 1991. It was heralded within the Beltway as a brilliant piece of legislative derring-do, a testament to the politician's Capitol Hill clout as well as his powers of persuasion.

But now Dixon has been forced to watch with growing dismay as evidence has been brought forth indicating that those funds were systematically squandered or misappropriated, the details of which were revealed during recent congressional hearings on Washington finances.

The 60-year-old Dixon, who grew up not far from the district near Georgetown University, has shown particular scorn for Coopers & Lybrand, one of the accounting firms that has audited the district's books for the past three years. What follows are excerpts from Dixon's testimony before the committee as reported by The Times and the Washington Post.

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"I have personally come to the conclusion that the district government has not acted in good faith with the Congress. I'm sorry that you (Congress) have found what you found. I wanted to think the best. Now I believe the worst.

"You can't ignore the facts. The district has been deceitful with this committee and with the Congress.

"This is not new for me, Mr. Nunn (Peter Nunn, a senior executive with Coopers & Lybrand). And I don't know if you've attended these meetings before, but I have been up and down this thing. Put in two words: You got a 'bad debt' here, right? That's what I am challenging--your judgment.

"I question whether you are independent in a situation where you have other contracts with the district. We are here today and dealing with this problem because of your judgment.

"You and your firm were in the best position . . . to know what the real deal was. You felt no loyalty to Congress and total loyalty to your client. (And now) home rule is jeopardized."

As for Washington Mayor Marion Barry, Dixon criticized the general disarray of the district's fiscal ledger.

"A lot of the conversation here has been very loose and general, which are not the facts. . . . (The district) has utterly failed to come to grips with its own problems."

Where does the nation's capital stand now? Estimates of its current deficit have it awash in $722 million of red ink.

But no one still knows for sure. Record-keeping has been so lax that city officials cannot tell the federal auditors what checks are outstanding or even how many people the city employs (reportedly about 45,000).

Dixon said his biggest fear now is that some of his political adversaries may consider "using this city as a laboratory for the (Republican Party's) 'Contract With America.' "

According to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), some changes for the district are clearly in the offing.

"It's a little bit like the emergency room," said Gingrich, likening the district to a wounded patient and GOP lawmakers who now control its oversight committees as the medical team in charge.

"Initially, you have an obligation to stop the hemorrhaging. But in the long run, keeping the patient bedridden with federal government intravenous feeding is hardly an adequate vision of the future."

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