Government leaders investigate management of federal charity drive

As federal agencies across the nation kick off their annual charity drives, lawmakers and federal officials are taking measures to ensure that the money raised in the Washington region is properly distributed by the local United Way organization.

The Combined Federal Campaign, which kicked off Sept. 1 and runs through Dec. 15, is the only authorized solicitation for charities in the federal workplace. The campaign was launched 31 years ago to pool informal solicitations into one large-scale charity drive.

Following allegations of spending and management problems at the National Capital Area United Way, Office of Personnel Director Kay Coles James asked her agency's inspector general to investigate the nonprofit organization's administration of funds raised through the National Capital Area CFC. United Way has held the contract to run the federal campaign in the Washington area for 20 years. Last year, the National Capital Area CFC raised more than $50 million.

"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."

The results of the investigation are pending, according to an OPM spokesman.

Meanwhile, two lawmakers, Del. Eleanor Homes Norton, D-D.C., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have expressed concern about how the local United Way's problems could affect the CFC campaign in the Washington area.

"If the community loses faith in the CFC, the real losers will be family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues who depend on the generosity and goodwill of CFC donors," Grassley wrote in a September letter to James and CFC Director Mara Patermaster. Grassley asked James and Patermaster to develop a plan to ensure the CFC would continue in the event that the local United Way was unable to run the fall campaign.

Norton is considering introducing legislation that would require OPM to terminate a partnership if a CFC administrator or charity is involved in financial or other improprieties.

"I believe a strong signal needs to be sent now to contributors and recipients alike that it is still safe to give because the Congress itself is now involved," Norton said. "The high stakes for charitable organizations and the residents they serve in the city and in the region could not be higher."

OPM's own CFC drive kicks off Wednesday.

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