Could an Overhaul to the Federal Giving Drive Do More Harm Than Good?

Lawmakers worry changes could drive away charities, donors.

The Office of Personnel Management ignored many complaints lodged by stakeholders in the annual federal employees’ giving drive when it drafted revisions to the campaign’s overhaul, and several lawmakers are not happy about it.

The chairmen and ranking members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its federal workforce subcommittee said that while OPM had good intentions, its final rule to reform the Combined Federal Campaign could ultimately hurt charities and drive down participation.  

Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., penned a letter to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget -- which must approve OPM’s final rule -- to voice their concerns. The lawmakers took issue with OPM’s proposal to require charities to pay an application fee to participate in CFC. The fees could disproportionately hurt small charities and discourage them from participating in the campaign, the oversight leaders argued, which could in turn drive away would-be donors.

OPM, which made its proposals based on a commission established on CFC’s 50th anniversary to recommend improvements, said the fee would move administrative costs from the donor to the charity. It would also help weed out less popular charities, OPM wrote in its final rule, noting 20 percent of charities participating in the 2012 CFC did not receive any donations.

The lawmakers also complained the requirement that all pledges be made online would place an undue burden on CFC donors, as 80 percent of pledges were made on paper in 2012. OPM had originally planned to require all donations be made electronically as well, but after hearing significant backlash, opted to only eliminate cash donations while still allowing giving through checks and money orders.

The congressmen said the elimination of Principal Combined Fund Organizations -- which administer campaigns at the local level -- would lead to CFC losing its local touch. OPM conceded 84 percent of comments on the proposal were in opposition, but opted to move forward with it anyway.

The rule would prohibit federations -- groups of charities with similar interests -- from collecting their fees from individual organizations through deductions from the totals the organizations raised during the campaign. Instead, the federations must deliver invoices to each charity and collect their payments separately. The lawmakers feared this would reduce transparency, though OPM said it would in fact bring more clarity to the charities’ administrative costs.

The lawmakers appreciated some aspects of the changes, applauding provisions to potentially expand the solicitation period and the creation of a disaster relief program that would allow feds to contribute to relief efforts “within hours of a disaster.”

The changes are scheduled to take effect for the 2015 campaign. Donations to CFC have trended down each of the last four years, including a 19 percent decline in 2013. 

(Image via Dooder/