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The Failures of the CNCS — Safety Edition

One of the things that makes America exceptional is our strong devotion to service and volunteering. Each year, millions of Americans make a very intentional commitment to bettering their communities, whether through monetary donations or through time and hard work.

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) was established in 1993 to harness the American spirit of service. CNCS was intended to give men and women the opportunity to engage with their communities, serve those in need, and make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

In order to serve effectively, volunteers and the populations they serve should have the assurance of basic safety: freedom from harm, freedom from harassment, and freedom from intimidation.

Personal safety should be non-negotiable. In CNCS programs, however, evidence shows it’s been expendable. CNCS fails to take safety of its members and the populations they serve seriously.

  • Failure to Conduct Required Criminal History Checks. From 2010 to 2014, a Senior Corps grantee failed to complete the criminal history checks, as required by law, on the majority of its volunteers. The OIG found that inadequate oversight by a Corporation State Program Office allowed this violation to go undetected for years. (2010-2014) (SAR 15-02, case 2015-011)

  • Convicted Sex Offender Allowed Access to Children. The OIG found evidence a grantee's AmeriCorps program director, who previously served as an AmeriCorps member, falsified personal information forms hiding his disqualifying criminal history as a sexual offender. This allowed the member to serve in a school tutoring program and to fraudulently receive more than $106,000 in program funds. (2005-2006) (SAR 05-02, SAR 06-01, SAR 06-02, SAR 07-01, OIG 05-048)

  • AmeriCorps Member Sexually Assaulted Another Member. A NCCC member pled guilty to battery and assault, in addition to two sexual offense counts after he sexually assaulted another NCCC member. (2012[1]) (SAR 12-02)

  • Sexual Harassment by AmeriCorps Supervisors. An OIG investigation substantiated allegations of sexual harassment that occurred when one grantee's supervisor had sexual relations with AmeriCorps members and another former supervisor brought AmeriCorps members to “strip clubs.” (1997) (SAR 97-1, OIG 97-007)

  • Longstanding Non-Compliance with Important Safety Provision. The OIG listed criminal background checks as a management advisory in 2005, stating that the Corporation lacks a firm policy and clear guidance on criminal background checks for grantees and subgrantees. Through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, Congress mandated criminal history checks for national service participants and grant funded staff. Even with this clear mandate in the law, the estimated rates of criminal history checks non-compliance in FY 2016 ranged from 22 percent in AmeriCorps State and National program to 41 percent in RSVP program. Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, the OIG listed “protecting the communities we serve by thorough criminal history checks and prevention measures” as a management challenge in its FY 2017 management challenges report. (SAR 05-02, FY 2017 Management Challenges Report)

  • Falsification of Records to Hide Putting Vulnerable Population at Risk. A subgrantee failed to conduct criminal history checks (CHCs) and falsely certified to the AmeriCorps State Commission that it was in compliance. After the state administrative office identified irregularities, the grantee altered documents to create the appearance that it had completed the CHCs. (2015-2016) (SAR 2016-02, 2015-026)

  • Improper Relationship Between Staff and Member. The OIG found evidence that a Corporation employee engaged in a sexual relationship with an AmeriCorps member. (2001) (SAR 01-2, OIG 01-056)

  • Failure to Enforce Important Safety Regulations. A subgrantee allowed employees to work on an AmeriCorps grant for years prior to completing the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) checks. Even with this clear violation of Corporation rules and national service laws, the Corporation did not disallow nearly $187,000 in federal funds as recommended by the OIG. (2015) (SAR 15-01)

  • Criminals Working on Grant. An auditor of a Social Innovation Subgrantee questioned over $348,000 in federal costs primarily resulting from the grantee failing to conduct criminal history checks in compliance with the law. Even when some checks were completed, a subgrantee allowed two employees known to the subgrantee’s management to have disqualifying criminal histories including murder and a sexual offense to continue working on the grant. (2013) (SAR 14-02, OIG 13-06)

  • Gang Using AmeriCorps to Recruit. The OIG and FBI found street gang members had enrolled in an AmeriCorps program and subsequently intimidated other members into joining their gang. Further, AmeriCorps members were found to be using illegal drugs and alcohol during their AmeriCorps service. (2012[2]) (SAR 12-01)

[1] Estimated based on which Semi Annual Report it first appeared, as the OIG report does not disclose exact date.

[2] Estimated based on which Semi Annual Report it first appeared, as the OIG report does not disclose exact date.