CNMI Americorps Program Misused Federal Funds

June 26, 2011

Another misuse of U.S. taxpayers funds in a CNMI program has been exposed. The U.S. Office of Inspector General reports that there was a misuse of Americorps funds by the CNMI Public School System.  The Americorps Program falls under the Corporation for National and Community Service along with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP),  and the now defunded Learn and Serve Program.

The OIG states that $68,288 in federal costs and $13,678 in Educational Awards are being questioned.

The 48-page report outlines the violations:
1. CNMI claimed unallowable and unsupported costs.
2. CNMI did not comply with AmeriCorps requirements for criminal history checks and National Sex Offender Public Registry (NSOPR) searches.
3. CNMI did not follow AmeriCorps requirements for compelling personal circumstances.
4. CNMI did not accurately record all timesheet hours, did not have procedures to verify member activities and timesheet accuracy, and, in some instances, timesheets did not support member eligibility for education awards.
5. CNMI did not comply with AmeriCorps citizenship eligibility requirements.
6. CNMI could not demonstrate that some members received performance evaluations, and all end-of-term evaluations did not meet AmeriCorps requirements.
7. CNMI did not complete all member enrollment and exit forms and approve them in the Corporation’s reporting systems in accordance with AmeriCorps requirements.
8. CNMI did not follow AmeriCorps requirements for pre-service orientation training, training and fundraising hours, member agreement, record retention, annual progress report submittal, and member Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) withholding taxes.
9. CNMI could not support all site supervisor labor costs, and site supervisors did not sign their timesheets.
Travel violations included:
CNMI claimed unallocable costs against Award No. 06TTHMP001, as follows:  It claimed $11,770 of airfare and per diem for trips taken in October 2009:
 $6,198 ($2,638 in per diem and $3,560 in airfare), the full amount of the CNMI AmeriCorps Program Director’s trip to Denver and Washington, DC. 
 $3,560 in airfare, the full amount of the CNMI Federal Grants Officer’s airfare to Denver, Washington, DC, and Honolulu. 
$2,012 of per diem, a portion of the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction’s trip to Denver, Washington, DC, and Honolulu. 
These expenses were not allocable to the AmeriCorps award because the only portion of the trip that was AmeriCorps-related was a half-day meeting with the Corporation’s program officer. The program officer was unaware that these costs were charged to the grant. In addition, this trip was not included in the approved grant budget. The approved budget only included travel to Corporation-sponsored conferences and events. 
The Washington, DC, trip purpose was to meet with program officers at the U.S. Departments of Education and Interior, and the CNMI Congressional delegate. The Denver trip purpose was to meet with an organization about its growth model and peer review process. The Honolulu trip purpose was to meet with a private organization on a variety of education issues.

CNMI also claimed $3,229 of travel expenses for a Board of Education representative who attended the National Service Learning Conference in Nashville. According to the organization chart provided by CNMI, this person was not directly involved in the administration of the AmeriCorps program and was not identified in the budget. We questioned $3,229.

CNMI also claimed an additional $1,537 of costs related to this trip, but did not provide supporting documentation.
The Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction who took the trip to meet with DOE and DOI officials was Jackie Quituqua. She is the wife of Justo Quituqua, who received a generous federal contract from PSS in July 2010. Others taking the Washington, DC trip included PSS Commissioner Rita Sablan, Tim Thornburg, and Christine T. Masga.

I know that Tanya King was the Board of Education member who attended the Nashville Conference.  I was there with another teacher and four students, as we were workshop presenters at this national service-learning conference. I was surprised to see quite a large delegation from the CNMI, considering the expense of the registration and the cost to attend from such a distance. In fact, I took a photo of Tanya King! (below)

Tanya King at the National Service Learning
Conference in Nashville, TN
© March 2009 W. L. Doromal
In response to inquiries during the audit, the CNMI claimed that records were destroyed, as deatiled in Exhibit B of the OIG report:
"Documents supporting the $31,435 of unsupported other costs, $1,909 of unsupported other costs, and $2,940 of unsupported labor costs are not available. It stated that the files supporting these costs were transferred to another building for storage but the building was demolished and all contents stored in the building were destroyed. It asked the Corporation to allow these costs because the costs were legitimate program expenses incurred to conduct program activities."
The old my dog ate the homework excuse? The response from the auditors indicate that the excuse did not fly. They responded:
"CNMI did not mention the destroyed building and records during planning, on-site fieldwork, and the exit conference. Further, CNMI did not provide documentation to support its statement that these records and the building the records were stored in were destroyed. We recommend that the Corporation disallow and seek to recover $36,284 ($34,375 from Award No. 06TTHMP001 and $1,909 from Award No. 09TTHMP001) of these costs and any related administrative costs from CNMI."
I am a coordinator of a Service Learning Academy that has 13 teachers and about 480 high school students who perform over 36,000 of service learning hours each school year. Several years ago I wrote and was awarded an Americorps grant. Our program enlisted an Americorp member  to work on service-learning projects in district schools and throughout the community.  Over a two-year span, I had two different Americorps Vistas – one was a retired woman, and another was a UCF graduate.  Americorps Vistas are like domestic Peace Corps workers. They receive a meager monthly stipend and during their year of service, they earn an education award that can be used for  their college tuition or to repay student loans.

Americorps' paperwork and record-keeping is extensive and requires meticulous and detailed reporting. During the years that I oversaw an Americorps Vista, a major portion of my time as coordinator was allocated to record keeping and reporting on grants.  I was only a site supervisor overseeing one Vista member under a state-run program, so I can imagine that record-keeping and reporting for the PSS Program, which received over $1.4 million from the CNCS would be a full-time job. According to archived newspaper articles, Geri Willis  and Christine Masga have served as directors for the PSS Americorps Program. Yet a letter to the auditor contained in the OIG report was signed by Debra M. Diaz as Program Director of the CNMI Americorps.

The Americorps Vista members in Florida who I know are mostly young college graduates who work with migrant farm workers and their children, minister to the homeless, or work in schools with the service learning, tutoring or mentoring programs. In the CNMI it appears that many of the volunteer Vistas are high school age and  are used as reading tutors and in service learning projects. (The qualifications for CNMI Vistas are listed in this Saipan Tribune article.)

Americorps is a great program that provides positive benefits for both the servers and recipients. Hopefully, the CNMI can get its act together to professionally execute the grant and program, maintain accurate records that meet federal requirements, and provide accurate and timely reports to the funders.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"They destroyed a building housing the records?" That's too funny.
But I never heard that one before.
By any remote possibility that was true it sure would confirm the ignorance and utter stupidity of these people in the Administration.
They should have used the excuse "The termites ate the paperwork" it has more credibility.
That excuse is widely used in the Phil.as they can readily produce termite debris as evidence.
And yet the people keep voting these same old useless incompetent clowns back into office.
I would really like to see the Feds start pulling funding through out.

Anonymous said...

Wendy

These are all minor infractions and probably quite common in the US. I'm sure that millions of dollars are misspent everywhere. That's what happens to a social welfare system like this. Unless someone physically steals the money - no one is going to spend the time 'going after' anyone.

The Saipan Blogger said...

A reduction in federal funding would reduce corruption. There'd be less money to misspend.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 11:28

These are not minor violations. These are serious and they cross many categories. What happens when grantees violate regulations? They do not get funded again! The CNMI has a reputation for misusing funds -look at the Arts Council and other agencies. No one wants their tax dollars misspent, especially when programs are being cut across the nation. The CNMI needs to get its act together, stop the corruption and stop the lies or it will be cut off.