IG: ACORN should not have got­ten grant

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CHUCK NEUBAUER

ACORN, the com­mu­nity ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion Congress cur­rently barred from get­ting fed­eral funds, should not have been given a $450,000 grant for an af­fil­i­ate to es­tab­lish a fire pre­ven­tion and safety pro­gram, Home­land Se­cur ity’s Of­fice of In­spec­tor Gen­eral said Nov. 30.

The 2007 grant, awarded by the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA), went to the ACORN In­sti­tute for the pi­lot pro­gram, al­though the In­spec­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice (OIG) said the in­sti­tute claimed ex­pe­ri­ence on its ap­pli­ca­tion it did not have and did not fully im­ple­ment the pro­gram as ap­proved.

OIG in­ves­ti­ga­tors also said the in­sti­tute could not sub­stan­ti­ate all its grant ex­pen­di­tures.

The ACORN In­sti­tute was sup­posed to de­velop a pro­gram for com­mu­nity groups to can­vass high-risk neigh­bor­hoods and dis­trib­ute and in­stall fire safety equip­ment such as smoke de­tec­tors or fire ex­tin­guish­ers.

“The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency did not have suf­fi­cient over­sight pro­cesses to pre­vent the award or to fully eval­u­ate the use of the grant money,” OIG in­ves­ti­ga­tors said in a re­port made avail­able to mem­bers of Congress.

The re­port was re­quested by Rep. Dar­rell Issa of Cal­i­for­nia, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form, and Sen. Su­san Collins of Maine, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Com­mit­tee of Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs.

Congress cut off ACORN’s fed­eral fund­ing last year af­ter al­le­ga­tions of voter reg­is­tra­tion fraud and em­bez­zle­ment. For­mally known as the As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tions for Re­form Now, it be­gan clos­ing its op­er­a­tions in March.

FEMA spokes­woman Rachel Ra­cusen said the grant was awarded un­der the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, adding that, “We will con­tinue to work with the in­spec­tor gen­eral to make sure this kind of iso­lated in­ci­dent does not hap­pen again.”

ACORN In­sti­tute’s at­tor­ney, Arthur Schwartz, called the OIG re­port an au­dit of FEMA, not of the in­sti­tute. He said au­dits re­quested by Mr. Issa and oth­ers be­gan af­ter Congress stopped all fund­ing for ACORN “and the fi­nan­cial roof fell in on ACORN and the ACORN In­sti­tute.”

“By the time au­di­tors came around there was no staff left to work with them, pro­vide doc­u­ments, or walk through pro­ce­dures and work records,” he said. “It was sort of like au­dit­ing a dead per­son and ask­ing the un­der­taker to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion.”

Mr. Schwartz said ACORN and the ACORN In­sti­tute filed for bank­ruptcy on Nov. 2. He said the in­sti­tute “has no as­sets and it will never op­er­ate again,” adding that, “Mak­ing it in­el­i­gi­ble for fu­ture FEMA grants is some­what mean­ing­less.”

The OIG re­por t says the ACORN In­sti­tute wrongly claimed in its grant ap­pli­ca­tion that its Ur­ban Fire Ini­tia­tive had ex­pe­ri­ence in fire pre­ven­tion and safety, in­clud­ing “gut­ting more than 3,000 homes in New Or­leans to re­move de­bris and haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.”

But the re­port said the Ur­ban Fire Ini­tia­tive did not ex­ist prior to the grant ap­pli­ca­tion and nei­ther the in­sti­tute nor the ini­tia­tive were in­volved in the Ka­t­rina work or any of the fire pre­ven­tion and safety ex­pe­ri­ence it claimed on the ap­pli­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, the re­port said there was no ev­i­dence to sup­port the in­sti­tute’s claim it had ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships with lo­cal fire de­part­ments.

The re­port also said FEMA had no pro­ce­dure to val­i­date claims in the grant ap­pli­ca­tion; the in­sti­tute did not com­plete two of the five ac­tiv­i­ties it agreed to per­form; the group could not sup­port $160,034 in ex­pen­di­tures; and FEMA over­rode a rec­om­men­da­tion by fire ser­vice ex­perts who said the pro­posal should not be funded.

“It is re­ally un­think­able that any­one would use the guise of pub­lic safety and help­ing vic­tims of a tragedy like Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina as a cal­cu­lat­ing way to in­ap­pro­pri­ately ob­tain tax­payer dol­lars,” said Mr. Issa.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Dar­rell Issa called it “re­ally un­think­able” to use Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina as a “way to in­ap­pro­pri­ately ob­tain tax­payer dol­lars.”

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