Lack of Funding Transparency Draws Ire of Austin Nonprofits

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May 16, 2011; Source: | The city of Austin introduced a new process this year to competitively award $13.2 million in social service contracts – the first time they've done it that way in nearly two decades – and the results aren't sitting well with many people, including some organizations slated to receive money.

The problem centers around the fact that the city won't make public the proposals the nonprofits submitted that fully detail their plans for spending the money and the numbers of people who will benefit. That's raising questions about whether, when all is said and done, the funding allocations will adequately cover all the people who rely on city-supported services for such things as mental health care, long-term job training, and substance abuse care.

Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities, says the lack of specificity – and thus the inability to analyze the impact of the city's funding decisions – is leaving the nonprofit community in the dark. Moreau, whose group was recommended to receive $150,000 in funding, says the limited information the city is releasing – application scores, names of nonprofits recommended for funding and amounts, and general descriptions of funded services – is not enough detail to "analyze anything."

What can't be determined, he adds, is what's left uncovered. "You revamp the system for the first time in 17 years and it’s produced some quirky results and the experts who know the most about poverty solutions aren’t allowed to look at any of the information,” says Moreau.

The city denied the request from the Austin American-Statesman for the proposals, saying they'll only release them after the contracts if the city approves the awards and after the contracts are signed. The newspaper reports that the matter is under review by the Texas Attorney General's office, which will decide whether the city must release the proposals.—Bruce Trachtenberg