Invention Contest Scrutinized in Wake of Fiscal Allegations
Invent America!, a national science competition for elementary school students, is facing allegations that it is slow in distributing prizes to winners and has lax accounting and bill-paying procedures, and that its founder sexually harassed several female employees.
The Kmart Corporation, a major sponsor of the competition, has announced that it has dropped its support, in part because of these allegations, first reported this month on the ABC News show "20/20.''
In a statement, Kmart said that it has worked with Invent America officials for the past 18 months "to resolve some issues.'' Concern over these unspecified issues and the "20/20'' story led the corporation to withdraw its support, the statement said.
Invent America is run by the United States Patent Model Foundation, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit organization that enlists corporate sponsors to help fund the competition. More than 30,000 elementary schools have participated in the competition since it was launched in 1987, according to materials provided by the foundation.
Student inventions from grades K-8 are judged on state and regional levels, and winners participate in annual national finals in Washington. The foundation says it provides more than $600,000 in awards annually to schools, teachers, and students, the last of whom receive their awards in the form of U.S. savings bonds.
"20/20'' reported in its April 9 broadcast that some student winners had not received their savings bonds six months or more after winning in the national competition. Former foundation employees told ABC News that J. Morgan Greene, the competition's founder, deliberately delays issuing the awards and is often lax in paying bills.
The show reported that the Albany, Ore., school district no longer participates in Invent America because its winners did not receive their awards without "persistent badgering'' by the district.
Marcia Swanson, the district's curriculum director, confirmed last week that the district stopped participating in 1988 because of the "the length of time between [winning] the award and the time we received it.''
Foundation Disputes Charges
Several former employees also told "20/20'' that Mr. Greene made sexually suggestive remarks to them. Six of these women have filed complaints against Mr. Greene with the Alexandria Human Rights Commission.
Charles A. Patrizia, the lawyer for the Patent Model Foundation, denied in an interview that any sexual harassment occurred at the foundation. He said the foundation has filed an official response to the complaints.
As for the distribution of awards, Mr. Patrizia said the foundation prefers that the students receive their prizes at ceremonies organized by local affiliates of the sponsors, such as a local Kmart store.
"If you gave the awards to them during the summer'' at the Washington event, he said, "then they are not in school and they don't get a chance to get publicity. By the time you get things organized, it may well be six or seven months from the time the award was announced in July until the time it is awarded in the schools.''
Other sponsors, which include Good Housekeeping magazine, the Polaroid Corporation, and the Pepsi-Cola Company, did not return telephone calls last week.