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‘Inadequate’ oversight of millions in federal grants by Big Brothers Big Sisters

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of America's oversight of millions of dollars in Justice Department grant money was "inadequate" and, according to an audit released Monday, the organization failed to adequately oversee funding it provided to local affiliate agencies.

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said an audit showed that the group, headquartered in Philadelphia, was in "material non-compliance" with the majority of the grant's requirements as its administration practices were inadequate to safeguard grant funds and ensure compliance with program rules.

The OIG audit also found that the organization could not adequately support any of the expenditures it made for the grant-funded programs because money was commingled within its general funds, making it impossible to identify how the grant money was used.

"We also determined that BBBSA did not adequately oversee the funds provided to local affiliate agencies by failing to require the local chapters to provide documentary support for the grant funds received and expended," said Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. "We found that BBBSA charged unallowable expenditures to the grants, failed to adequately monitor consultants, and did not properly report program income generated through the programs."

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, in a statement, said 200,000 children in the U.S. benefit from their one-to-one mentoring relationship with the organization, with another 100,000 on waiting lists across the country. It noted that the audit identified no material concerns and did not identify any findings of intentional misuse or misdirection of federal funds.

"While our work in serving at-risk children was never compromised, we are disappointed that we fell short in meeting the procedural guidelines set by DOJ," the statement said. "The success of the programs in no way absolves us of our own responsibility to be fully compliant. To that end, new financial personnel are in place, grant management systems and internal controls are being enhanced, and network-wide training is underway."

The organization received three Justice Department grants, totaling $23.2 million — awarded by the department's Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to support programs designed to provide mentoring services to tribal youth, youth with a parent in the military, and other high-risk populations considered underserved.

According to the audit, the Office of Justice Programs froze the disbursement of all grant funds to the organization and notified it of the restriction. The audit report made 15 recommendations, including remedying $19.5 million in questioned costs and putting to better use $3.7 million in funds not yet disbursed.

In addition to addressing the questioned costs, the audit's recommendations included management improvements to help ensure the organization effectively manages federal funds, implements appropriate accounting procedures and internal controls, and complies with applicable laws, regulations, guidelines, and the specific terms and conditions of the grants.

Mr. Horowitz said the Office of Justice Programs agreed with all of the OIG's recommendations except the recommendation that the funds not yet disbursed be put to better use. OJP's position was that additional oversight of Big Brothers Big Sisters already in place ensures funds will be adequately safeguarded.

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