- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2001

President Bushs "No Child Left Behind" school reform proposal passed in the House last week. Considering what a colossal black hole the U.S. Department of Education has become, the $24 billion plan would be more appropriately dubbed: No Dime Left Behind.

If Beltway pols were truly interested in educational accountability, they wouldn´t be funneling billions of dollars through a government bureaucracy that cannot keep track of its funds. The Education Department failed its last three financial audits and is on track to fail again. On the same day the House approved Mr. Bush´s school spending package, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein issued indictments against 11 people involved in a theft ring of outside contractors working with Education Department employees. Three former Education Department workers have already pleaded guilty.

I read the federal grand jury´s 64-page indictment papers over the weekend. I wish every member of Congress would do the same. This million-dollar enterprise may just be the tip of the iceberg of fraudulent federal spending "for the children."

The ring allegedly revolved around Elizabeth C. Mellen, an award-winning, high-ranking telecommunications specialist in the Education Department´s Office of the Chief Information Officer. Her indicted co-conspirators include her children and husband, an employee at the Environmental Protection Agency; her sister and two nieces (both of whom worked in the Education Department´s financial assistance office); her nephew (who worked as a technical specialist in the Education Department´s financial assistance office); and a Bell Atlantic employee.

Mrs. Mellen and her family apparently turned the Education Department into their own Home Shopping Network. The indictment says Mrs. Mellen directed the Bell Atlantic worker, Maurice Hayes, to order equipment through his company´s outside contract (paid for by the Education Department and subsidized by taxpayers). She then allegedly had various contract employees deliver her $300,000 worth of electronic goods, and in exchange, the contract employees collected more than $600,000 in false overtime pay.

Mrs. Mellen´s sister allegedly visited her work station several times to shop from electronics catalogs; others put in their orders by phone or e-mail. According to the indictment, Mrs. Mellen plundered public funds to pay for: 10 Gateway computers and accessories, 15 printers, four Yamaha CD drives, nine laptops for family birthday and graduation gifts, a 61-inch Sony television, and seven cell phones (on which a total of nearly 12,000 calls were made).

Also: 169 cordless phones (46 with caller ID, five with headsets), six Olympus digital cameras and four Olympus printers, eight Sony digital cameras and accessories, four Sony digital camcorders and accessories, four Sony Handycams and accessories, four Sony video Walkmans, seven Palm Pilot personal organizers, 50 Motorola Talkabouts, and two Philips audio CD recorders.

In addition, federal prosecutors say, Mrs. Mellen arranged for a toll-free telephone number to be routed through the Education Department so family members and friends could call Mrs. Mellen´s sister´s home in Mechanicsville, Md., without any toll charges. They also say she ordered the Education Department´s Bell Atlantic contract employees, at taxpayer expense, to install an additional phone line in her apartment and an extra phone jack in her sister´s home.

Finally, the indictment charges that Mrs. Mellen used outside contractors as family chauffeurs and handymen, ordering them to drive to Baltimore to purchase crab cakes for her, shuttle her daughter and granddaughter to a medical facility, powerwash her son´s deck and perform other yard cleanup.

The Education Department can´t claim such alleged theft is rare. It doesn´t know. Government auditors have identified accounting discrepancies totaling up to $6 billion. Federal education aid has been embezzled to pay for luxury cars, real estate, diapers and rent. If this agency were a private company, it would have been shut down by government regulators long ago. Instead, it grows fatter and more unaccountable every year. Republicans, who once led the crusade to eliminate the department, are now tripping over each other to feed the beast.

"The federal role in education is not to serve the system. It is to serve the children," the Education Department´s motto preaches. If the charges against her are true, I imagine Mrs. Mellen told herself the same as she phoned in another electronics order for her children and licked the crab cake crumbs off her light and greasy fingers.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide