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OPM prohibits spending CFC donations on meals, entertainment

Mar. 28, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on Wednesday prohibited all Combined Federal Campaigns from spending donations intended for charity on food, beverages and entertainment.

Berry tightened the rules">in response to an audit of the Washington-area CFC, which also was released Wednesday. The OPM Office of Inspector General's audit identified nearly $1.1 million in questionable expenses between 2007 and 2009, including $11,315 to bring more than 600 volunteers and campaign managers to a 2007 Washington Nationals game, $1,500 to hire Howard University's jazz band for a conference, and $102,503 to buy employees and volunteers meals.

Global Impact, which manages the National Capital Area CFC, defended its food purchases, saying they were appropriate because staff worked while they ate. In an interview with Federal Times on Tuesday, Global Impact President Renee Acosta said her organization kept the cost of the meals under the government's own per diem limits.

But OPM disagreed strongly. The IG's report called the food purchases "extremely disturbing." And Berry said in his directive that OPM has only approved expenses for meals served in conjunction with official campaign events, such as kickoff rallies, victory celebrations or awards ceremonies not working lunches or other such meals "served as a convenience."

But now, even food and beverages for official campaign events are not to be paid with charity funds.

"Effective immediately, [Local Federal Coordinating Committees] are instructed not to approve, and [Principal Combined Fund Organizations] are directed not to incur any expenses for food, beverages or entertainment, and no such expenses are to be charged against the proceeds of the campaign," Berry wrote.

Berry also said OPM has never authorized campaigns to pay for entertainment expenses such as tickets to shows, sporting events or musical entertainment using donated money that would otherwise have gone to charities.

OPM ordered Global Impact to repay $308,820 of the questioned expenses to the charity's account so it can be distributed to other charities. Acosta said it repaid those funds Tuesday, but said Global Impact plans to appeal and hopes much of that money will be returned to her organization.

OPM has not fired Global Impact for the questionable expenses. But in a statement Tuesday, Berry said Global Impact must continue cooperating with the IG's audit and must put additional controls and policies in place as a condition of continuing to serve as the campaign's manager.

Berry also said OPM will set up a new task force, headed by the watchdog group Charity Navigator, to review Global Impact's expenditures.

"As the federal agency responsible for overseeing the CFC across the nation and around the world, OPM is committed to ensuring that charitable contributions made by federal employees and service members are properly administered, with the maximum amount reaching charities," Berry said. "Any failure to abide by OPM regulations regarding the handling of charitable contributions is unacceptable."

Acosta said Global Impact at all times believed it was following the rules, and said auditors improperly criticized legitimate expenses.

"Every penny's been spent on the campaign," Acosta said. "The regulation is being reinterpreted after the fact."

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