Whacked By A Boys Club

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When is a congressional earmark not an earmark, but a line item in the federal budget? When it's the $60 million appropriated last year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (B&GCA), that's when.

 

The non-competitive funding allocation for the Atlanta-based organization has been a fixture in the budget of the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) for a decade. In 1997 Congress authorized $20 million per year for five years to the politically savvy group, but left it up to the appropriations committees to determine where the funds would come from. Chosen to pick up the B&GCA tab was the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (now at $523 million per year). That authorization has expired, says Chris Ullman, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Regardless, says Ullman, "it's an earmark." Ullman notes that over those five years Congress has pushed the allocation steadily up to $60 million for a total of $190 million over five years, not the $100 million originally anticipated by budget officials.

 

Still, President Bush's newly appointed OMB chief, Mitch Daniels, thought he had found an easy mark in his quest for a billion dollars worth of cuts in criminal justice-related programs. After all, the B&GCA is just one of 6,554 groups or projects inserted into the budget last year by a pork-crazed Congress. During this fiscal year almost $17 billion was thus earmarked. (See Youth Today, February 2001). For example, just to pay for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, Congress has earmarked a total of $361 million over the last five years.

 

When President Bush unveiled his budget in early April, he said, "Washington is known for its pork. This budget funds our needs without the fat."

 

Phat lobbyist Robbie Callaway, the B&GCA senior vice president, found himself uncomfortably at odds with the president, who is a former member of the Midland, Tex., Boys Club. Bush recently donated $18,500 in royalties from his book,  "A Charge to Keep," to the group, which claims a national membership of 3.3 million (up from 2 million in 1994). Soon after the fat-free budget was released, Callaway told the Washington Post that he "believes the president will restore the funding as soon as the matter is brought to his attention. I'm quite certain the president doesn't know, I hope!"

 

OMB spokesman Ullman hopes the president knows that B&GCA has exceeded its original goal of opening 1,000 to 1,100 new clubs, upon which the 1997 funding decision was justified.

 

Callaway, observes former Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Laurie Robinson, "is the best criminal justice lobbyist in Washington," adding that she believes the funds were well spent during her seven-year tenure under former Attorney General Janet Reno.

 

Robinson's assessment of Callaway's acumen was on display May 2 when Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to defend the Justice Department's $24.7 billion FY '02 budget request.

 

Forget terrorism, spying or crime rates. What Rep. Dan Miller (R-Fla.) wanted to know was, where was the .002 percent of the Justice Department budget for the B&GCA? Leading the attorney general to the clubhouse door, Miller offered, "I know you are a supporter of the Boys and Girls Club[s], as is the president. But it got zeroed out in your budget this year, and it's kind of embarrassing, because the president was not long ago over at the Boys and Girls Club in Delaware when the budget was unveiled." To Miller, at least, the $60 million wasn't one of those dastardly earmarks Daniels complains about, saying it "might have been considered earmarked - it really wasn't. It was an authorized program. The chairman [Frank Wolf (R-Va.)] and I have met with the Boys and Girls Club[s], you know, we all support it."

 

Replied an eager-to-accommodate Ashcroft, "Well, I love the Boys and Girls Club[s]. I was a member of the [Springfield, Mo.] Boys Club - the first organization I was a member of. Cost 50 cents a year when I was a boy. The grant funds that are available this year [FY '02] would sustain that kind of allocation to the Boys and Girls Clubs again if you were to choose to do so." Translation: Be my guest.

 

Just in case Ashcroft and Daniels didn't get the message, committee chairman Wolf later said, "I am just going to ask the Boys Club question too. That's what I meant at the outset when I said OMB is responsible for some of the problems." Translation: Tell OMB chief Daniels to forget it.

 

And that squabble about whether B&GCA is authorized or just a pedestrian earmark was settled late on the night of June 14, when the Senate accepted by unanimous consent Amendment #424 to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It authorized $60 million per year for five years for the B&GCA. The amendment was co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the senior members on the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over all criminal justice programs. Sen. Leahy told the Senate that with the $300 million the B&GCA would establish 1,200 additional clubs (bringing the total to 4,000) that will serve 6 million young people by January 2007. In a press release, Leahy took up the "mistake" defense of the White House by saying, "I hope that the president's decision to eliminate funding for the Boys and Girls Clubs in the administration's budget was an oversight which will be corrected."

 

If budget honcho Daniels (a former executive of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly Co. and a former president of the Indianapolis-based policy think tank, the Hudson Institute) didn't get the message from Capitol Hill, then former B&GCA board members - such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett - can be expected to join in the jawboning. Should the pols strike out with the president, then expect a White House visit during one of those T-ball games by B&GCA national board members Hank Aaron or Ken Griffey, Jr. to chat with the president about more than baseball. (B&GCA runs Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball in the Inner-city program.)

 

As federal budget disputes go, it was barely a fair contest. Daniel's spokesman, Ullman, says, "I think the Boys and Girls Clubs are great," and offers plaintively that they are eligible for funding "like any other youth group."

 

Left unexamined during the budget brouhaha is just how B&GCA spent that $190 million. Requests for specifics from the Justice Department were referred back to Callaway. To disburse the funds, B&GCA has set up an Office of Bureau of Justice Assistance Grants in Atlanta. The nine-member staff is lead by Senior Director Tim Flaherty, and is part of the Office of Services to Clubs run by Senior Vice-President Glenn Permuy. Nationwide, there are 1,100 B&GCA affiliated organizations which operate 2,591 clubs, according to Sen. Leahy. Callaway puts the members at 2,850, a base-line 259 clubs closer to the 4,000 clubs by 2007 target. Thanks to the BJA money, says Callaway, "We open one [club site] per working day." Currently, says Flaherty, some 600 to 700 clubs receive cash support. Those grants range, says Callaway, from $25,000 to $150,000 per site.

 

For example, one recent club opening was in Barrow, Alaska (pop. 4,581), where a defunct teen center was reborn as the Arctic Slope Boys & Girls Club serving all of the town's 1,822 children. There in June to dedicate the new club, along with its director Mike Shultz and most of the town, was Callaway, ever mindful that, says Callaway, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) "really cares about kids." Stevens, who recently signed on as the Republican co-sponsor of the Younger Americans Act, is the ranking minority member of that incubator of most Senate earmarks, the appropriations committee. With the Senate changing party control, Callaway can soon be expected in Appalachia in homage to the undisputed king of pork, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Callaway acknowledges that thanks to the Leahy-Hatch amendment, B&GCA's once $60 million ceiling has now become the floor for annual appropriations. Says Callaway after hitting the lobbyist equivalent of a grand-slam home run, "I love the challenge."  

 

Callaway is not without his critics for his perceived go-it-alone approach on Capitol Hill. One long-time member of the umbrella National Collaboration for Youth, to which B&GCA belongs, laments that the B&GCA are not participating in formulating common youth policy strategies and that B&GCA representatives rarely attend meetings of the coordinating Washington Support Group.

As for outside evaluation, says up-through-the-youth-work-ranks Callaway  (displaying the disdain for research and evaluation consulting firms shared by most successful youth service entrepreneurs), "We've been evaluated internally, externally, you name it."  He invites skeptics to go visit a club. That's pretty good advice for Daniels. Might we suggest the Artic Slope club in Barrow just before unveiling the FY '03 budget next January? Contact: B&GCA (404) 487-5700, (301) 251-6676 (Washington office), www.bgca.org.