Federal Charity Drive Overhaul Proposals Draw Criticism

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A plan to reform the Combined Federal Campaign in response to declining donations would cause the charity drive to lose its local appeal and increase overhead costs, stakeholders told lawmakers this week.

Representatives from various charities echoed members of the House Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census in criticizing several potential regulatory changes to the CFC. The Office of Personnel Management put forth 13 proposals to improve the CFC in April after several years of declining donations.

Panelists and expert witnesses expressed the most apprehension over a plan to consolidate local federal coordinating committees into regional offices with larger purviews.

“I believe that removing local control of campaigns will alienate donors in smaller communities by making them think they are just giving away their hard earned dollars to a bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., who spoke as a witness at the Wednesday hearing.

Some organizations expressed fear the change would prevent the local connection that often serves as an effective way to encourage federal employees to donate.

“The reorganization of the campaign will mean less opportunity to meet face to face with employees and share our agency’s mission,” said Ju’Coby Pittman, CEO and president of the Clara White Mission, a charity that assists low-income individuals in Jacksonville, Fla.

The witnesses said an OPM proposal to institute an enrollment fee for charities that wish to participate in the giving drive lacked specificity and would result in undue overhead that would in turn drive away potential donors.  They also said the elimination of cash and check donations -- which OPM called for -- would rule out many federal workers without access to or a sense of comfort with online giving.

Mark Lambert, OPM’s associate director for merit system accountability and compliance, said only a small percentage of donors still send in their donations using cash or checks -- and the change would significantly reduce costs by eliminating many processing and printing expenses.

The lawmakers praised federal employees for their donations, saying the drop off -- CFC raised $258.3 million in 2012, down from $282.6 million in 2009 -- may be attributable to circumstance rather than organizational flaws.

Federal employees’ “generosity has continued even in the face of a challenging budget climate, a federal pay freeze since 2011, sequestration, layoffs, buyouts, furloughs and legislation targeting their pay and benefits,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., in testimony delivered by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

Stakeholders did not reject all of OPM’s proposals and expressed an openness to make some changes. They largely accepted ideas such as altering the solicitation period and creating a disaster relief program to allow employees to donate within hours of a catastrophe.

Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, the subcommittee’s chairman, said he was “troubled by several aspects” of proposed regulations, but added he supported some changes.

“With giving at an all-time low, it’s clear that changes need to be made to bring workers back in the fold and back to donating,” Farenthold said.

Lambert emphasized the proposals could still be revised and improved before final implementation.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” he told the panel. “The regulations themselves are meant to be a general framework.” 

(Image via photastic/Shutterstock.com)

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