AmeriCorps Officials Berated for Management Problems

By Julie Blair — May 12, 1999 2 min read

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., says he likes the idea of people helping people through the AmeriCorps program. What irks him is that the federal organization can’t get its financial books together after years of trying.

Mr. Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee to Review Administration of AmeriCorps, served up another tongue-lashing to program administrators at a hearing last week, after they told him they still hadn’t received a clean bill of health from federal auditors.

“This is unacceptable,” Mr. Hoekstra said. “There are thousands of companies that do this each and every day.”

The Corporation for National Service, the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps and three other community-outreach organizations, has had management troubles since it evolved out of the ACTION Agency in 1993.

Though the corporation was given its first clean audit last year, auditors told the committee that it still has many nagging problems.

The agency, which has a $712 million budget this fiscal year, is still using an antiquated computer system that is not “Y2K compliant” and has lacked a chief financial officer and a deputy financial officer since last summer, auditors told the committee.

“In the past three years, we have made 300 recommendations, and more than 60 percent of them remain [unfinished],” said Luise S. Jordan, the inspector general for the corporation.

Decentralized Program

AmeriCorps, the largest of the corporation’s programs, is designed to engage young adults in community service while taking care of unmet educational, environmental, public-safety, and other human needs without displacing existing workers.

After a rocky start, the program--one of President Clinton’s first-term priorities--has garnered growing bipartisan support in recent years. (“Support for AmeriCorps Program Growing in Congress,” March 31, 1999.)

Harris Wofford, the chief executive officer of the corporation, told subcommittee members that he, too, was disappointed in its lack of progress on financial matters, but he emphasized the difficulties of administering a decentralized organization.

AmeriCorps alone coordinated some 100,000 volunteers over the past four years in 4,000 communities, according to the agency.

Moreover, the corporation inherited many problems when it replaced the ACTION Agency in 1993, Mr. Wofford said. He said AmeriCorps was given old computer systems and was left responsible for years’ worth of poor bookkeeping by ACTION officials.

The leadership problem should be solved within six weeks, when a candidate for chief financial officer will likely be examined by the White House, Mr. Wofford said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as AmeriCorps Officials Berated for Management Problems