D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson gave me grief last week for the assertion in my column that a deputy mayor for public safety is superfluous. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has resurrected the position following its four-year absence during Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration. "I completely defend having a deputy mayor," he said. Then, the at-large legislator lobbed this at Ward 2's Jack Evans, chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue who has led the call to cut government spending: "[He] can't take credit for spending cuts while giving away millions of dollars in tax abatements with no analysis of the benefits they provide except for the person in whose pocket the money is going."


I wrote last October how the District provides hefty tax breaks for developers and questionable nonprofits. In 2009, D.C. couldn't collect more than $384 million in taxes.

"Councilmember Mendelson continues to show a complete lack of understanding of economic development," Evans said in response, noting that his committee approves tax incentives "on behalf of every other ward councilmember." Projects like Gallery Place and the Spy Museum return substantial revenues to the District, he added.

We can certainly expect more such internecine fighting, as elected officials grapple with a potential $600 million budget gap for fiscal 2012. But clamping down on tax breaks won't solve all that ails the District. Elected officials may want to follow President Obama's lead. During his State of the Union address, he pledged to reorganize the federal government, citing as an example of duplication and overlap the fact that the Interior Department handles freshwater salmon while the Commerce Department deals with them when they're in saltwater. "I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked," he added.

The District has its own salmonlike conundrums.

For example, is there really a need for an Office of Risk Management? Can't one agency issue professional licenses, instead of three or more? If officials are serious about spending cuts, they can start by developing and then implementing a plan for a major reorganization of the government.

But if it is going to work, they have to approach such reorganization differently than they have previously.

The financial control board in the 1990s made an unimpressive attempt at reorganizing local agencies. Mayor Anthony A. Williams followed with a proposal to introduce "managed competition" -- he never did. Fenty instituted a willy-nilly privatization of various services. Meanwhile, the legislature's contribution has been to add offices, departments and programs, creating a municipal Frankenstein that enhanced inefficiency and bloated the budget.

A reorganization commission would be a good place to start -- but it shouldn't include the usual suspects. The folks on the panel can't be afraid of innovation and market-driven strategies. If put in place soon, such a group could have a plan ready before 2012 budget deliberations are completed this spring.

The legislature also could save tons of money by instituting a 10 percent rollback of all salaries over $100,000. Then, it may want to cap those reduced compensations for the next five years. It's hard to justify placing frontline employees on furloughs while Gray is paying his chief of staff $200,000 -- a full $40,000 more than Fenty paid his gatekeeper.

Finally, to ensure budget fidelity, it's time to think seriously about finding a new chief financial officer -- one in the image of Williams, not Natwar Gandhi. The District needs a fiscal sheriff who won't permit overspending and won't play footsy with a spendthrift executive.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.