Capital Area United Way withdraws from federal campaign

The National Capital Area United Way has withdrawn its bid to run the Combined Federal Campaign for 2003, saying it wanted to focus on reorganization and recover from its recent financial troubles, the chapter's interim head said Friday.

"I'm exceedingly impressed with the generosity of federal employees," said Robert Egger, interim chief executive officer of the National Capital Area United Way. About 180,000 civil servants participated in the 2002 campaign, donating roughly $50 million dollars to 3,000 organizations. That is almost as much as they donated in 2001.

Egger said he is especially surprised that he did not see a dip in giving, considering the allegations of the financial mismanagement that the capital region's United Way chapter faced. He commended his staff for maintaining the level of contributions, even in a "tough climate."

The nationwide Combined Federal Campaign is the only authorized charitable fundraiser in the federal workplace. The campaign was launched 31 years ago to pool informal solicitations into one large-scale charity drive.

But to ensure civil servants do not lose confidence in the chapter, Egger decided to end 25 years of administering the campaign and rebuild the chapter's reputation. The Combined Federal Campaign brought in about half the money raised by the capital chapter.

"This year we're coming out from under a lot of clouds," he said. "We want to ensure that federal employees don't have any questions."

The D.C. chapter hopes to hand its contract over to the Central Maryland United Way for a year and then return to run the federal charity campaign for the 2004-2005 season, Egger said. Several other organizations have placed bids to administer the campaign and the Office of Personnel Management expects to announce a winner in mid-March.

Egger said he is confident that the Maryland chapter will be a top contender for the contract. If the chapter wins, the D.C. office's staff members will be able to work on the federal campaign in Maryland for the year.

The two offices are used to coordinating because of their close geographical proximity, Egger said. Talks had already been under way for the two offices to cooperate on such tasks such as processing of contributions, he added.

Following allegations of management problems at the National Capital Area United Way, OPM Director Kay Coles James, Del. Eleanor Homes Norton, D-D.C., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern about what impact the nonprofit organization's alleged mismanagement would have on the federal campaign.

"It is our responsibility as administrators of the Combined Federal Campaign to ensure that the management of CFC funds, at all levels, meets with the high standards expected by those generous federal employees who participate annually in CFC campaigns," James wrote in a September memo to CFC heads. "Nothing less than total accountability and transparency is needed to maintain the trust of donors and the stability of the program."

Eggers said he hopes to administer the CFC again in 2004, when his chapter will have had time to reorganize. The reorganization already has started with the appointment of a new management team and board of directors.

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