Six obscure nonprofits funded almost entirely by federal taxpayers in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that recruits technically skilled seniors for cheap labor are “scandals waiting to happen,” according to an expert on advocacy groups.
“The idea of government funding charitable works ought to be something conservatives and libertarians are concerned about,” Capital Research Center’s (CRC) Senior Vice President Matthew Vadum told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The government’s been doing this a long time, but it rarely gets discussed.”
The CRC is a right-leaning research group that focuses on the funding sources, agendas and public policy influence of political activist non-profits.
The six nonprofits administer the EPA’s Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) program. Each of the six received more than 99 percent of their funding from the government from 2009 to 2013, according to 990 tax forms.
The EPA’s SEE program funds the nonprofits to recruit seniors for agency work, ranging from clerical jobs to chemical engineering, but with a maximum starting pay of only $12.72 per hour, TheDCNF previously reported.
The EPA awarded nearly $321 million to the six nonprofits from 2009 to 2014, according to TheDCNF’s analysis of more than 100,000 agency grants compiled by the watchdog group Open The Books. Several of the nonprofits are also involved with other government programs.
One of those groups – the National Older Worker Career Center – reported that 100 percent of its funding came from government grants, nearly all of which was spent on the SEE program, according to its 990.
But unlike government agencies, these nonprofits face significantly less scrutiny from the public, according to Vadum.
“There is a definite lack of accountability,” Vadum told TheDCNF. “Media is only interested when there’s a scandal. They’re all scandals waiting to happen. These quasi-governmental bureaucracies take on a life of their own.”
EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison disagreed.
“We do not consider our grant recipients ‘quasi-governmental,’ because they are non-profit organizations under 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code,” she told TheDCNF. “They are not entities of federal, state or local governments.”
Harrison did not comment on a nonprofit’s lack of accountability.
The National Council on Aging, for example, spent $1.6 million on top executive salaries – the most among the SEE nonprofits, according to tax forms. Another – Senior Service America – by comparison, spent less than half that on its executives, though it reported nearly $20 million more in revenue.
But SEE is just one example of nonprofits acting like extensions of government.
Vadum recollected the long-running scandal involving the federally funded Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, where employees offered advice on tax evasion on videos made by two conservative activists disguised as a pimp and a prostitute.
Vadum added the Department of Housing and Urban Development also uses nonprofits to carry out programs. The agency’s Section 4 program, for example, awards millions of tax dollars annually to three selected nonprofits for “capacity building.”
The program relies on obscure metrics to measure results, while one nonprofit paid a top executive more than $1 million in 2014, TheDCNF previously reported. HUD’s inspector general has never audited the Section 4 program.
None of the nonprofits responded to requests from TheDCNF for comment.
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