On October 19, 2011, Cause of Action (formerly known as Freedom Through Justice) successfully pressured NeighborWorks America to publicly release all Office of Internal Audit reports from January 2009 to the present. Most of the public, even Washington insiders, have little idea that NeighborWorks – the government’s largest funder of foreclosure mitigation grants – had an internal audit office that conducted investigations. One of the Office of Internal Audit reports titled, Special Audit on the Use of National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program Grant Funds by ACORN Housing Corporation,Inc., and originally issued to former Senator Chris Dodd over a year ago, sheds light on the relationship between the Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA, formerly Acorn Housing) and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (“ACORN”). According to the Audit, “[a]lthough AHC and ACORN might be incorporated as separate entities in form and structure, the financial transactions noted below evidence extensive relationships between both organizations that may undermine claims of an ‘arm’s length relationship’ between them.” In fact, NeighborWorks found the following violations by AHCOA:
- The awards of ABC-executed contracts with ACORN, totaling $6.1 million, violated the intent of the OMB A-110 “organizational conflict of interest” and “revision of budget and program plans” requirements;
- The contractual awards are highly material in that significant shares (44% and 17% for Rounds 1 and 2, respectively) of total funding were outsourced to ACORN;
- The contract awards to ACORN represent major overruns against both (a) planned amounts for outreach represented in AHC’s applications for NFMC funding and (b) AHC’s formal representations to NeighborWorks America shortly before issuance of these contracts;
- Significant relationships were evidenced between AHC and ACORN; calling into question whether these were valid arms-length transactions. The Round 1 contract was non-competitive (sole source) and the Round 2 contract was awarded after AHC received just one bid.
While it is now clear that AHCOA and ACORN are affiliated, these revelations by NeighborWorks came too late, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued a $350,000 grant on September 2, 2011 and a $300,000 grant on August 8, 2011, to AHCOA. Despite NeighborWorks’ audit showing these grants to have violated the Continuing Appropriations Resolution signed by President Obama on December 16, 2009, HUD has continued to enrich AHCOA at the taxpayers’ expense.
Sadly, it appears that NeighborWorks’ delay in releasing its report may have been intentional, as a Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) appropriations decision determining AHCOA was not an ACORN affiliate became final on September 29, 2011 and therefore not subject to reconsideration. (See Cause of Action’s letter to the GAO requesting they review their decision).
Based on Cause of Action’s investigation, it was able to determine that Congress asked NeighborWorks to post its internal audits several months ago, but the recommendation was at first denied by NeighborWorks’ Board of Directors. One of these Board members is an Assistant Secretary at HUD. Given the fact that HUD’s General Counsel determined AHCOA was not an ACORN affiliate, it should be no surprise that HUD would attempt to prevent the release of an audit that refuted its conclusions concerning the relationship between AHCOA and ACORN.
NeighborWorks’ Board reconsidered its decision after Cause of Action put additional pressure on NeighborWorks by highlighting that the public has a right to know how hundreds of millions of their tax dollars are being spent and whether their money was going to an organization synonymous with corruption. Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein celebrated NeighborWorks’ decision to release the reports. Epstein stated, “I hope they will continue to adhere to the Obama administration’s stated goal of increased government transparency and ethics. The new information provided in these documents further shows the need for the federal government to obey the law and ensure that no affiliate of ACORN, including AHCOA, receives one cent of taxpayer money.”