RALEIGH – The NC Commission on Volunteering and Community Service under the office of Governor Roy Cooper has agreed to a settlement with the federal government after an investigation into alleged falsified scorecards and compliance documents for federal AmeriCorps program grants.
AmeriCorps is a federal volunteer grant program created in 1993 to connect and fund students willing to serve in low-income communities in need. The NCCV is a department of the executive headed by state employees reporting to the governor and a council of commissioners. It was established in 1994 to promote volunteerism and administer the AmeriCorps program in North Carolina.
“The NCCV acted with reckless disregard by making false statements and provoking false certifications for the salaries of employees to administer the AmeriCorps programs, failed to maintain certifications, timesheets and documentation for the AmeriCorps separate work from NCCV employees as required, and failed to maintain appropriate internal controls, such as allowing one employee to work under two overlapping grants and another employee not to provide certification monthly required for more than two years, ”the North Carolina Eastern District Attorney’s Office wrote in a press release on Wednesday.
The NCCV denies any wrongdoing but settled the claim, agreeing to pay the US government $ 327,500. East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were also accused of providing false certifications to AmeriCorps and agreed to pay $ 140,000 and $ 375,000, respectively.
The settlement follows an audit by AmeriCorps’s inspector general studying the documentation of grant funds paid between 2014 and 2017. In an investigation report dated March 2019, investigators say they found multiple disparities between the costs. reported to AmeriCorps by the NCCV and what their books and accounts showed in an audit. In addition, investigators, referring to the NCCV as “the Commission”, discovered questionable wage allowances.
“We found that the Commission billed the AmeriCorps grant for the salary of an employee performing unrelated duties on another grant, after that grant was exhausted,” wrote investigator Monique Colter, deputy inspector general for the audit, to Chester Spellman, AmeriCorps Director, State and National, in his report. It was referring to an employee who was paid under a separate grant from the Department of Public Safety, but was then billed to AmeriCorps when the other grant ran out.
According to the report, the NCCV administered more than $ 21 million in AmeriCorps cash, providing sub-grants to 14 organizations, including ECU and UNC Chapel Hill. Inspectors say more than $ 2 million of that money is inappropriate or unfunded. In addition to questioning employee timecards blamed on the AmeriCorps grant, investigators questioned accommodation and car rentals, training programs, and nearly $ 40,000 in allowances for the Pages program. of the governor’s office charged against the grant. Pages serve for a week in the summer and primarily perform clerical duties and tour state buildings.
In addition to the NCCV’s reporting problems, the UNC and ECU are alleged in the report to have filed false certifications for the hours of service worked. The IG report includes approval of hours for work performed on holidays and weekends beyond service site hours of operation. Investigators say excessive hours were reported and approved at the end of the semester, with at least one report saying 16 hours per day.
“These AmeriCorps programs were intended to support at-risk, low-income youth academically,” said AmeriCorps Inspector General Deborah Jeffrey. “Instead, the universities and the agency involved here managed them in a way that allowed participants to tamper with their timesheets and rob North Carolina communities of the help they were supposed to receive. . “
How did it happen?
Among the reasons given by the inspector general of AmeriCorps for the alleged misuse of federal funds, in 2016, after defeating the government of the day. Pat McCrory, Cooper gutted the NCCV and replaced all staff except two lower-level AmeriCorps directors with his own hires.
“The practice of replacing almost all staff following an election created conditions in which errors were likely and supervision of sub-recipients was likely to suffer,” the report said. ‘IG. “We note that the current staff have made progress in addressing these issues and correcting the deficiencies.”
However, the report cited problems with reporting staff scorecards within the governor’s office, claiming that “employees have completed a generic, undated certification indicating that employees spent a certain percentage of their time supporting.” the efforts and initiatives of the NC Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, ‘”rather than properly documenting how the governor’s office staff member spent their time at federal or non-federal activities.
In the grants awarded by the NCCV to UNC Chapel Hill, the report implicated, among other things, more than $ 35,000 awarded to the UNC-CH Literacy Corps between 2015 and 2017 for 12 suspected cases. The Literacy Corps is supposed to provide literacy classes for adults, children and new English speakers, but in some cases student hours have reportedly been overestimated, approved and a grant awarded. Similar problems would have occurred at ECU. The IG questioned, among other things, the distribution of nearly $ 10,000 in scholarships to nine students who declared hours not worked, but their time was approved. When the inspectors deducted the student working hours declared, they did not meet the requirements of the grant.
“Universities, state agencies, and anyone seeking federal funds are required to make honest payment claims,” Acting US Attorney Norman Acker said. “Those who fail to do so will be held accountable. Our office will zealously pursue damages and civil penalties where warranted… cooperation has been a key factor in determining an appropriate resolution in this matter. “
According to his LinkedIn profile, Acker attended UNC Chapel Hill, where he obtained his undergraduate and law degrees.
Schools and the NC Commission on Volunteering and Community Service denies wrongdoing. The NCCV reportedly provided the inspectors with its internal audit process and disagreed with certain findings. The agency told investigators it had carried out site visits, but damage from Hurricane Florence in 2016 prevented some visits and surveillance.