- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

The United Way of the National Capital Area said yesterday that it will cut 36 jobs and slash its budget by $2 million, seven months after accusations by a former board member led the FBI to investigate financial mismanagement at the organization.

"The aggressive action we are taking today is difficult, but decisive to get our financial house in order," said William Couper, the chapter's acting chairman and president of Bank of America of Greater Washington. "Our goal is to right-size without harming the core functions of our organization."

The chapter raises about $90 million annually for 1,100 social programs. Last year it acknowledged taking credit for millions worth of donations it had not handled and withholding donations intended for charities while deducting excessive fees for overhead costs.

The investigation followed the accusations in the spring by Ross W. Dembling, then a volunteer member of the board of directors, who questioned the charity's consultant contract with its former chief executive, renovations to corporate offices and travel expenses for senior staffers.

The case is still pending, but the Washington Redskins, Lockheed Martin Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and other well-established businesses started losing confidence. The big businesses, having traditionally played major roles in marketing and promotion, pulled out of the 2002 fund-raising campaign.

In October, the chapter hired Robert Egger as the interim chief executive officer, and a new board of directors took office Jan. 1. Board members went on a retreat last weekend to discuss the best ways to streamline the organization.

"We've got to be accountable for every penny that comes through here," Mr. Egger said. He also stressed the importance of "winning back" the big companies.

"We want them back in a real bad way," he said.

Mr. Egger said the chapter also must regain the faith of the employees who work at those companies.

The chapter has made other recent changes including better financial control, overhead cuts, and a code of ethics and a plan to improve fund raising at the chapter's headquarters while keeping a strong presence in the eight regions it serves.

The chapter also plans to help the laid-off employees with career placement, counseling and resume services. The employees also will receive a severance package, which is the organization's standard practice.

The board of directors also has approved the release of an additional $1.01 million to 1,000 area agencies. The money comes from the 1997-2000 Combined Federal Campaigns.

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