WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 28, 2017
One of the most important responsibilities given to Congress by the Constitution is oversight of the federal bureaucracy. As members of this committee, we share in that responsibility by conducting oversight of the departments, agencies, commissions, and government corporations in our jurisdiction. It is our duty to hold the executive branch accountable both for the way it administers the law and how it spends taxpayer dollars. And that’s why we are here today — to hold the Corporation for National and Community Service accountable.
Commonly known as CNCS, the corporation is an independent federal agency, created in 1993 to oversee a range of federal community service programs and grants, including AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs. Today, it receives more than $1 billion dollars a year to support 11 different initiatives and issues $750 million in grants annually. In fact, at any given time, CNCS is responsible for overseeing more than 2,000 active grants — ranging in size from $40,000 to $10 million.
That’s a significant amount of money, making the corporation’s oversight of those funds significantly important. CNCS has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent in full compliance with the law. However, time and time again, the corporation has fallen short of that goal.
Just last year, this subcommittee held a hearing after learning about a particularly egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars under the corporation’s watch. As the corporation’s Inspector General reported, one AmeriCorps grantee allowed members to participate in illegal activity by providing support services during abortion procedures — all while continuing to receive taxpayer funds. Incidents like this one are simply unacceptable.
CNCS has a history of failing to prevent the unlawful use of taxpayer dollars. According to the corporation’s own Inspector General, AmeriCorps misspent at least $14.5 million in 2015. I say “at least” because the information used to determine the extent of that misspending was not “statistically valid, complete, or accurate” — meaning the actual amount may have been even higher. Due to poor planning, CNCS could not even determine the amount misspent in 2016.
Additionally, it is estimated that Senior Corps programs misspent $47 million dollars in 2016. Let me repeat that: $47 million. That’s 30 percent of Senior Corps’ total spending.
Of course, while misspending is a serious problem, the corporation’s oversight failures extend beyond funding.
Under federal law, CNCS grantees are required to perform criminal history checks on their participants and staff to ensure the safety of the individuals and communities they serve. However, the corporation’s Chief Risk Officer found that an alarming number of grantees failed to properly do so last year. In fact, 40 percent of participants or staff in the Senior Companion Program and 41 percent in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program didn’t undergo the required background checks. These are just two examples, but the percentages are shocking. We are talking about individuals who are working closely with our seniors and some of the most vulnerable members of our local communities. Yet, we know nothing or very little about their background or criminal histories. That’s not just an issue of mismanaged or misspent money. It’s an issue of safety and security.
It is clear CNCS is not fulfilling its responsibilities to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent in accordance with the law. We, the members of this committee, have a responsibility to demand better.