January 12, 2012

Budget Cut Could Curtail Oversight of National-Service Programs

The inspector general's office at the Corporation for National and Community Service has warned Congress it will have to lay off at least three-fourths of its 33 staff members and sharply curtail its activities because of a "severe and damaging" budget cut.

Congress cut the office's budget from $7.7-million to $4-million in the 2012 spending bill it approved last month.

"This budget reduction caught me and my executive staff by surprise," Kenneth C. Bach, the corporation's deputy inspector general, wrote in a letter this week to more than a dozen House and Senate members.

He said the 48-percent cut was in "stark contrast" to the 3-percent reduction in the corporation's overall budget—and "will substantially inhibit me from performing my duties."

The inspector general's office monitors federal volunteer and national-service programs, including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Vista. Mr. Bach said the budget cut could leave it without enough money to conduct any new audits or investigations in 2012—even the legally required audit of the agency's financial statements.

Three Republican senators—Susan Collins of Maine, Michael Enzi of Wyoming, and Charles Grassley of Iowa—have responded to his letter by asking Congress to authorize a transfer of $4-million from the corporation's general budget to the inspector general's office.

"It is vital that inspectors general have the funding necessary to carry out their important mission," they wrote in a letter to Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees spending on the national-service agency.

The reduction was introduced as the House and Senate worked to reconcile vastly different versions of a budget for the corporation. The House Appropriations Committee proposed gutting the agency, leaving just $280-million for a skeleton operation. The Senate voted to increase the agency's budget slightly from almost $1.08-billion to $1.09-billion, allocating $7.7-million for the inspector general's office.

In the end, Congress agreed to spend $1.05-billion.

“There is no question where this funding cut originated," said Kate Cyrul, spokeswoman for Senator Harkin. "Just look at the U.S. House’s proposal as compared to the Senate proposal.” She said Mr. Harkin was reviewing the letter from the three senators.

A spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee did not respond immediately to a request for comment.