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Editorial: Cut wasteful CFC activity

Jan. 20, 2013 - 03:21PM   |  
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Every fall, brigades of federal employees at all grade levels are deployed across the globe — often for months on end — to drum up charitable donations from fellow employees to meet pre-set pledge targets.

The Combined Federal Campaign raises roughly a quarter-billion dollars a year for charities. But it does so at great federal agency expense, much of it hidden from view.

CFC depends on hundreds of loaned executives — managers from grade 11 or higher — who are excused from their regular duties for up to five months a year to help drive this charitable program.

Each loaned executive costs the taxpayer from $23,000 to $60,000 in payroll, not counting benefits, each year of participation. With 184 local campaigns, each employing between a handful and a couple of dozen loaned executives, those costs add up in a hurry.

At the same time, their agencies either miss their work output, or bring in temporary employees to make up for their absence. Those costs are also invisible, as are the costs for hundreds of “keyworkers” and “coordinators” at each campaign — federal employees staffing CFC events, putting up posters and soliciting pledges from their fellow workers, all at taxpayer expense, all while leaving their real work to others.

The fact is, no one really knows how much CFC costs the taxpayer — or whether those investments are effective or productive.

The Office of Personnel Management is drawing up new rules for CFC, but a draft of those reforms obtained by Federal Times focuses only on the existing CFC structure and process, suggesting a later campaign solicitation period, a shift to entirely electronic donations, eliminating paper processes and streamlining the CFC governance structure.

These are all welcome and necessary. But they fall short of addressing the most important questions about a program in which less than one in every four federal employees participate.

OPM claims CFC costs are just about $30 million, a little more than 10 percent of what CFC raises each year. But if manpower costs were added in, that number could easily be doubled or more.

Such a figure would be alarming to feds and taxpayers alike.

This is not to say CFC and its mission to encourage federal employees to support charitable causes is a bad thing. It’s not. But somewhere along the way, the focus has been lost.

Making it easy for feds to contribute through payroll deduction is a good thing, and it’s a worthwhile benefit. But it is not a central mission of government.

The only taxpayer-paid involvement feds should have in the CFC should be informing employees how to participate, certifying which charities are qualified to receive funds collected by the government and withholding contributions from participants’ paychecks. That’s it.

Federal workers should not be subject to pressure from colleagues or superiors to participate, and taxpayer dollars should not be wasted raising money for private charities.

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