More than $1M in questionable spending at CFC, finds OIG

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A new audit may cause federal employees to think twice before they give to the Combined Federal Campaign, the government’s sole authorized philanthropic fund-raising drive.

Federal employees who mean to contribute to charitable causes instead unwittingly finance questionable expenses at the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area, say auditors in a March 14 Office of Personnel Management inspector general report (.pdf). It calls into question $1.07 million in spending by CFCNCA.

CFCNCA is one regional Principal Combined Fund Organization of 226 total nationwide. The mission of each PCFO is to “administer an effective and efficient campaign…collecting the greatest amount of charitable contributions possible,” notes the OIG. But for the Washington, D.C. area PCFO, auditors questioned $308,820 of expenses charged to the campaigns and $764,069 of expenses that could have been put to better use.

Many of the questionable expenses uncovered by the OIG center around the treatment of “loaned executives”--i.e, agency representatives appointed to assist in the campaign. Some of the expenses include $1,095 for Christmas party costs for loaned executives, chair massages provided at a loaned executive meeting, and numerous meals during local application review committee and loaned executive meetings.  

Many of comments from PCFO officials reflect a misunderstanding of CFC’s mission and poor oversight, say auditors. 

The PCFO “has taken the position that any event where campaign business is conducted or where campaign staff is involved constitutes a ‘campaign event,’ the expenses of which are chargeable to the campaign.”

“The OIG finds this approach to the administration of a campaign extremely disturbing and suspects that most donors would as well," they write.

The OIG concludes that there is a culture at CFC where the charging of meals is part of the normal course of business and was considered an acceptable expense to the campaign. In response to this conclusion, PCFO said that OPM's “Proven Practices and New Innovations” memorandum states that meals and similar expenses are allowable.

“A meal served in conjunction with a campaign event is an allowable expense that may be paid from campaign receipts. The cost would be included in campaign expenses,” said PCFO, quoting the memo, adding that the OIG “misunderstands how successful fundraising campaigns are conducted.” Volunteers should be “recognized, honored, thanked, and motivated,” said PCFO in its response.  

But the OIG says PCFO fails to consider OPM’s definition of a “campaign event,” which is a “special and out-of-the-ordinary occurrence…geared toward the raising of monies for the campaign,” say auditors. Meetings are not campaign events.

Report authors go on to say that “PCFO itself misunderstands the nature of the role and status that Federal employees play when working for a campaign…Their work on the CFC is considered part of their official duties for which they receive their Federal salaries.” Therefore, additional motivation is not “critically important.”

For more:
- download the report, 3A-CF-00-11-034 (.pdf)

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