GAO Cites AmeriCorps Enrollment Errors
A report released last month revealing flaws in the management of AmeriCorps provoked harsh criticism from Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.
The report by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) found significant differences between the actual AmeriCorps enrollment and what appears in the AmeriCorps database, saying that “not all the AmeriCorps enrollment and exit information has been accurately recorded.”
The report found “discrepancies in about 5 percent (8,300) of 158,000 enrollments from program years 2000 to 2002” and said some of those discrepancies could affect future estimates of AmeriCorps expenditures. The GAO also discovered that entries for almost 500 AmeriCorps members had Social Security numbers for people who are dead or nonexistent.
The inquiry was requested by Sens. Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), after it was revealed in 2002 that Americorps didn’t have enough money to fulfill its obligations, because of an over enrollment of members.
The mismanagement “put the program, and taxpayer dollars, at risk,” Bond said in a prepared statement. A statement from Grassley called the AmeriCorps program “fertile ground … for waste, fraud and abuse of the taxpayer dollar.”
Three staunch AmeriCorps supporters – Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) – did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The AmeriCorps’ grants and national trust were appropriated $441 million for fiscal 2004, a 62 percent increase from 2003.
President Bush has requested $452 million for fiscal 2005 and issued an executive order in February to direct more funds to faith-based youth programs through national and community service programs, which include AmeriCorps.
Sex Traffic Victims: ‘What About Us?’
A group of former child prostitutes questioned the value and fairness of the politically popular Amber Alert program last month.
The five young women, all survivors of domestic sex trafficking, wondered what Amber Alert could do for the youth sex trafficking victims in the United States, estimated at 300,000 in a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study.
The Amber Alert Act was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in 2003. The law provides states with $25 million in matching funds to set up systems to announce missing children reports on electronic highway signs, radio and television and emergency-alert systems. It is funded at $2.5 million in fiscal 2004.
But that money “wouldn’t help a runaway or a prostitute,” said Dominique Vickers, one of five speakers at the Congressional Briefing on Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth. “Who would report one of us?”
Some youth workers seem as dissatisfied as the women with the small amount of attention the federal government pays to helping juvenile prostitutes, who, more than any other group of runaways, are at risk of damaging behavior and harm by others.
“Twenty-five million dollars goes into Amber Alert, and it only saves 60 children a year,” said Sandy Skelaney, who coordinated the summit for Polaris Project and Girls’ Emotional and Mentoring Services (GEMS). “When you look at who gets to be helped, pretty much all of [these] girls wouldn’t be able to benefit. The target audience is the white middle class.”
Amber Alerts were installed in some states as far back as 1996. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the system saved its 100th kidnapping victim in September 2003.
The money that is available for programs working with sexually exploited youth involves a lot of red tape, said Skelaney. “You have to go through channels, and prove the children are actually victims before you can even get it.” One such example would be funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime, which requires organizations to spend the money first, then apply for reimbursement for helping trafficked teens.
Increased attention from Washington could generate money to expand and improve programs in many major cities, said Rachel Lloyd, executive director of GEMS, in New York City. Without increased support from federal agencies, she said, the existing network is ill-equipped to deal with the victims of exploitation.
“People ask about things we can do on a local level. We are already doing that,” she said at the conference. “We’re getting a little tired of that – there needs to be a systemic change, from the top down.”
WIA Programs Shortchange Dropouts, Report Says
The overwhelming majority of programs funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) target in-school dropout prevention efforts as a higher priority than the needs of the nation’s 5 million out-of-school, out-of-work youth, according to a new report by U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO).
On the heels of WIA’s reauthorization, the report recommends that the departments of Education and Labor “coordinate efforts to clarify” how local WIA boards can better reach the out-of-school population, questions the reliability of state data, and says that “little is known” about the effectiveness of WIA programs, because the Department of Labor (DOL) has not conducted an “impact” evaluation of the 6-year-old program. DOL funding for WIA has ranged from $1 billion to $1.4 billion in recent years.
The DOL is “taking issue” with the charge that “the states did not have adequate controls on their data to ensure that it was reliable for this report,” said David Bellis, a GAO director who oversaw the report, titled, “Workforce Investment Act: Labor Actions Can Help States Improve Quality of Performance Outcome Data and Delivery of Youth Services.” The DOL made its views known “informally at meetings,” Bellis said.
On the other hand, report co-author Cindy Ayers said the Department of Education “formally” approved the report’s findings in a letter signed by Susan Scalafani, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education.
The departments of Education and Labor did not respond to requests for comment.
Among the report’s findings, based on responses from 496 of the nation’s 604 local WIA boards and field trips to nine boards in California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia:
• States favored prevention programs because the cost of recruiting, serving and retaining an out-of-school youth is $4,000, double the cost of in-school efforts.
• Seventy percent of participants nationwide were in school, but percentages ranged from 38 percent in South Dakota to 86 percent in Nebraska.
• The 2003 reauthorization language endorsing youth councils as optional is gaining favor around the country.
• Crucial mentoring and one-year follow-up programs are “problem” areas, because the DOL “has not addressed mentoring in its annual youth program guidance or shared best practices.”
Dorothy Stoneman, president of YouthBuild USA, questioned the report’s claim that it is difficult to find out-of-work out-of-schoolers. “I wonder where they were looking,” Stoneman said. “They are not hard to find.”
Contact: Cindy Ayers (206) 654-5591, AyersL@gao.gov.
Scouts Lose: The U.S. Supreme Court declined an appeal last month from the Boy Scouts of America, who sued the state of Connecticut for removing the scouts from a state-run fund-raising campaign. After the high court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts could bar homosexuals from participating, Connecticut removed the scouts from the list of nearly 900 charities that state employees can donate to as part of a payroll-deduction program.
No Religious Scholarships: In another March decision, the Supreme Court voted 7 to 2 that the state of Washington could rescind a state scholarship to a youth who is studying to become a minister. Washington and 36 other states have laws prohibiting the sponsorship of religious education at college.
Kinship Care Bill: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced that she will propose the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, designed to provide tax relief and improved services to grandparents and relatives who are raising children. About 6 million children are raised in such settings, a number that the AARP says represents a 30 percent increase between 1990 and 2000. Clinton’s bill would provide, among other things, a $500 grandchild care tax credit. For information on the bill, go to: www.clinton.senate.gov.
Youth Boycott Trendy Store: Urban Outfitters, a popular clothing store, withdrew T-shirts with the logo “Voting Is for Old People” after Mobilize America’s Youth (MAY) organized a boycott of the store. The boycott was announced in the form of an online petition which, within 48 hours, had produced hundreds of youth signatures. MAY is a national network dedicated to empowering young people by increasing civic engagement and political participation.