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CNCS watchdog sworn in at time of budgetary threats

WASHINGTON – Washington lawyer Deborah J. Jeffrey was sworn in last week as the new inspector-general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the nation’s largest funder of service organizations, including programs like Senior Corps and AmeriCorps. 

Deborah JeffreyJeffrey’s nomination by President Barack Obama in November made its way through two U.S. Senate committees before the full Senate voted to confirm her on June 29. Her seat has been vacant since 2009, when President Obama dismissed her predecessor, Gerald Walpin, citing lack of confidence in his abilities.

When Jeffrey starts work later this month, she’ll be joining an organization under budgetary attack by the U.S. House of Representatives. The office of the Inspector General at CNCS has already seen its budget slashed by half to $4 million in the current fiscal year, a move that led to a steep reduction in staff and hurt scheduled program audits for the year.

Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee a bill for fiscal year 2013 that would maintain the IG office’s funding at 2012 levels, but which would gut 74 percent of funding for programming in the rest of the organization. The House bill only preserves $271 million for SeniorCorps, and requires the “orderly elimination” of remaining programs, which include AmeriCorps and Learn & Serve America.

“It’s not like the corporation has been singled out in this instance, but it is one in a long list of many programs that have suffered the same fate at the hands of House appropriators,” said AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service, a coalition of service organizations.

The House bill also targets other agencies in health and human services, slashing funding for the Social Security administration by hundreds of millions of dollars, for the Centers of Disease Control by 11 percent, for substance abuse and mental health programs by 15 percent and for teen pregnancy prevention by 82 percent, according to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who called it a “reckless and irresponsible” document in a statement to the subcommittee. 

It’s the third year in a row that the House has attempted to gut funding for CNCS; both times in the past, the Senate prevailed and restored much of the money, though at lower levels than in previous years, Connolly said.

This year as well, a full-scale elimination of most CNCS programs appears unlikely to pass the Senate. But the House subcommittee’s action should still raise alarms, Connolly said: “It just makes the job of the Senate harder to figure out how to restore all the programs that are on the chopping block on the House side.”

Moreover, the House’s actions send a message to the country that national service is not important at a time when unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is skyrocketing, Connolly said.

“This kind of attack is unwarranted, and it shows me that folks need to know more about how these programs work,” Connolly said. “I really think that if they understood it, they wouldn’t be targeting it.”

Photo from Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.

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