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Three Years On, Watchdog Nominee Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON -The country’s largest funder of service and volunteer programs is one step closer to filling a leadership vacancy at its watchdog office after more than three years. A U.S. Senate committee approved the Obama administration’s nomination of Deborah Jeffrey, a Harvard-educated lawyer, as inspector-general of the Corporation of National and Community Service in an executive session at the end of last week. 

Jeffrey’s nomination will now head to another Senate committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, for approval, said Vincent Mulloy, counsel to the inspector-general at CNCS. That committee has 20 working days to process Jeffrey’s nomination, after which it could make its way to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

“We appreciate the committee’s support for Ms. Jeffery and hope she is confirmed as soon as possible,” read a CNCS statement sent to Youth Today after the green light vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week. Deborah Jeffrey did not return a call for comment from Youth Today.

The last few months have been a time of drastic cuts at the inspector-general’s office at CNCS. Congress slashed the office’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year by 48 percent to $4 million, a sharp contrast to the 3 percent reduction in the wider CNCS budget and far less than the $8.5 million the White House had requested for the office. The deputy chief of the IG office, Kenneth Bach, reduced office staff from 33 members to 14 as a result, a downsizing that has led to several audits planned for this year to be postponed or suspended, Mulloy said. 

The budget woes are only the latest in a line of troubles at the office. The inspector-general position at CNCS has been vacant since 2009, when President Barack Obama fired Gerald Walpin, a Bush appointee, citing a lack of confidence in his abilities. The controversial move resulted in a Congressional inquiry, led by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). 

The firing left the CNCS, which oversees programs such as AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America, without a chief executive officer, chief financial officer or an inspector-general at a time when it was tasked with expanding responsibilities, including growing AmeriCorps from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000, the 2009 Congressional report charged.

The lack of a political appointee at the head of the office has probably impacted long-term planning, Mulloy said.

“I guess we’ve been able to plug along despite the fact that we didn’t have a presidential appointee,” he said. “Somebody at the top as a presidential appointee has the capability of making a great many long-range plans and long-range goals. By necessity, an acting person doesn’t know if they’re acting in this job another week, another month, or another year.” 

Whenever a new inspector-general is confirmed by the Senate, Mulloy said, his or her first priority may be figuring how to restore the office’s budget and bring back staffing to what it once was.

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