- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 22, 2007

U.S. regulators are questioning a prominent District-based nonprofit group’s contracting practices and its spending of federal money on travel, including a stay at an expensive golf-and-tennis resort.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector wants the District-based National Caucus and Center on Black Aged Inc. (NCBA) to return more than $130,000 in federal grant funds spent on what it calls questionable travel claims and no-bid contracts.

The group, which reported revenues of $26.3 million in 2005 and is one of the largest nonprofit advocacy groups for minorities in the District, is disputing the findings of the recent Labor Department audit, a top company official says.

The group received $15.3 million in grant money from the Labor Department under the Older Americans Act to help promote part-time employment for seniors across the country.

The regulators reviewed the group based on a tip questioning “extravagant hotel accommodations” and possible conflicts of interest in the awarding of a technology contract, according to the audit.

The inspector general questioned the use of federal grant funds for a three-day stay at the El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort in Tuscon, Ariz., at a rate of $129 a night, exceeding the $105-a-night maximum allowed under federal policies. The audit also questioned meal and car-rental charges during the trip.

In seeking the return of more than $5,000 for questionable charges during the trip, auditors wrote the group “inappropriately used government funds for travel.”

In addition, the government audit stated the group spent $38,000 for a no-bid contract to a consulting company owned by a part-time employee, who is not identified in the audit. Two related contracts were later awarded in no-bid deals, resulting in questionable “costs totaling $125,193,” the audit stated.

However, auditors said they found no evidence to back up an anonymous complaint they received that the group paid salaried employees while they worked for another company or while they were undertaking a business venture in Africa, according to the report.

Elias Hussein, the group’s executive vice president, said officials dispute the audit findings and hope to convince the Labor Department that it should not have to return the money questioned by the inspector general.

“We’re hoping the ruling will be in our favor,” Mr. Hussein said. He said he did not think the bulk of the group’s funding would be jeopardized by the findings.

“We’ve always had clean records, and we always had maintained regular audits,” he said.

In a written reply to the inspector general, the group said it sought prices for three possible hotel sites around Tuscon last year for a conference, picking the cheapest possible deal.

In addition, Mr. Hussein said, the technology contracts were awarded at a time when the group was experiencing management turnover, including the death of a director.

“Unintended omissions or errors may have occurred, but never in its long history [has] NCBA ever misused or wavered from its commitment to serve low-income aged individuals,” he wrote.

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