Offering disabled Americans the chance to work is an amiable goal as many are able to lead productive lives as citizens in our communities. Surely, alleged fraud, abuse, and corruption would not be found in a federal program that helps those who are so vulnerable. Think again!
AbilityOne and SourceAmerica, taxpayer-funded nonprofit agencies that manage work programs for the severely disabled, are being investigated for a slew of charges including fraud, corruption, mismanagement, illegal operations, and more in what may be one of the worst cases of this type we’ve seen in a federal agency. Apparently, everyone from the Justice Department to the State Department is investigating allegations.
AbilityOne funnels $3 billion taxpayer dollars to federal contracts that create jobs for people who are blind or severely disabled. SourceAmerica reports to AbilityOne and is tasked with managing about $2.3 billion of those contracts with companies that employ these workers. To get a contract, 75 percent of a company’s work must be done by severely disabled employees who can’t get work anywhere else. The other $612.8 million goes to the National Industries for the Blind, which is another non-profit created by AbilityOne, but is not now facing allegations of wrongdoing.
SourceAmerica has been handing out contracts to a small group of companies that don’t meet the 75 percent threshold and there’s no process to verify whether these companies are operating with the right number of severely disabled. Sources say that they are not.
And there’s a big conflict of interest as those companies getting the contracts are connected to top officials at SourceAmerica who wield a heavy hand in decisions on contracts. These leaders are funneling dollars to their friends not based on merit and we’ll see after these investigations wrap up just what they are getting out of the deal.
All the while AbilityOne has its head in the sand -taking the rubber stamped recommendations with no oversight or punishment when wrong-doing on the part of SourceAmerica has been discovered.
CNN breaks this story:
But CNN has learned that as many as half the companies contracting with SourceAmerica under AbilityOne may be operating in violation of the law, without enough severely disabled employees, according to sources with knowledge of the program. There are no such allegations of wrongdoing with AbilityOne's contracts for blind people.
What this means is the program responsible for making sure severely disabled people are being hired with taxpayer money through federal contracts is not enforcing or following the law, according to numerous inside sources with knowledge of the organization.
AbilityOne is run by a commission made up of presidential appointees. While they must approve all contracts, sources tell CNN they are essentially a "rubber stamp," for the referrals sent to them by SourceAmerica, which essentially operates independently with contracts for the severely disabled…
"The contracts are now being funneled to a very small group of 10 large companies that are getting way more than their fair share," said former congressional investigator Rich Beutel.
Beutel and numerous other sources tell CNN the staffers who are essentially handing out federal contracts at SourceAmerica are heavily influenced by top officials there, and those top SourceAmerica officials are often connected to the very businesses that get the contracts — sometimes even in top leadership.
"So that you have actual advisers and board members in these private organizations who are themselves business owners; and so they can award themselves potentially contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars," said Beutel. "It's a perfect setup for waste and abuse," he said.
The agency denies those accusations. …
CNN has been told by multiple sources there is no real verification process in AbilityOne or Source America to determine whether severely disabled workers are being hired in the proper ratio and the contracts are operating legally. "Their definition of 'verified' is they look at a piece of paper that Peckham has signed saying, 'We are in compliance … these people are severely disabled.' And that, to me, is not verification," said Willard.
Even on the rare occasions when companies are cited by AbilityOne officials for not being in compliance, nothing happens, numerous sources told CNN…
What's more, none of the companies operating illegally were disciplined in any way, according to sources. And these letters were only sent to the violators that self-reported their low numbers out of compliance, or where the small AbilityOne team tasked with overseeing the enormous program managed to discover violations.
If these allegations hold true, this program is both a ripoff for us taxpayers and an affront to disabled people who want and need to work. If you were one of the remaining few who still trusted big government, this should put finished to that.
Policymakers often talk of funding programs that educate, train, and get Americans back to work. We have to make sure that there is independent oversight and accountability to ensure that our tax dollars are not being wasted and misused to line the pockets of the political appointees running these programs rather than Americans who need help.
What we see here seems to be another federal agency is appointing have worked on the relevant problems, but, once hired, do whatever it takes to ensure that their companies continue to benefit so that they can continue to benefit. The concerns of taxpayers and the disabled don't play a large part in their calculations.
It makes a compelling case for reassessing the worth of these targeted programs entirely. Doesn’t the private sector do it better anyway?
Waste and mismanagement can occur in private sector or nonprofit organizations? Sure. However, the public outcry and legal ramifications are far more swift and sure than for government agencies, where transgressions are more easily hidden.
We should scrutinize federally-aligned nonprofits with even greater care to ensure punishment for abuse is swift and certain. We owe it to disabled Americans and the taxpayers who provide billions for such programs.