January 11, 2012; Source: Federal Times | Do the math and see if you find something awry: the budget of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) suffered a 3 percent cut in the omnibus budget bill negotiated to keep the federal government running for Fiscal Year 2012. It was a minor cut compared to others, such as weatherization, home heating assistance, and Pell grants—reflecting, in part, the extensive advocacy done by the array of service organizations committed to protecting programs such as AmeriCorps.

Although the agency took only a 3 percent overall hit (dropping from $1.08 billion to $1.05 billion), the budget of the Office of the Inspector General at the Corporation was slashed by almost half, from $7.7 million to $4 million—a 48 percent cut. In turn, the Corporation has slated layoffs for 26 of the 33 employees in the IG’s office—a 79 percent cut in staffing.

Three Republican senators—Charles Grassley of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine, and Mike Enzi of Wyoming—have written to the appropriation committees of the House and Senate to avert the layoffs, proposing a shift of $4 million out of the Corporation’s program budget to keep the IG’s office at level funding. The Federal Times sought but received no reactions from either Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) or Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who head the Senate and House panels that oversee the IG’s budget.

It’s not like the IG’s office has been swimming in money all this time. The IG had already curtailed most investigations, lacking the travel budget necessary to explore problems in person .

Democrats blamed Republicans for the cut in the IG budget, as the White House had proposed $8.5 million for the CNCS IG. However, Democrats have not been fans of the CNCS IG. No Democratic senators joined with Grassley, Collins, and Enzi to call for replenishing the IG’s budget, and early in his administration, President Obama dismissed former IG Gerald Walpin. Walpin had investigated AmeriCorps funding abuses at a nonprofit founded by the mayor of Sacramento, a prominent supporter of the president during the 2008 election. There has been much contention over the IG’s role in CNCS before and since the controversial investigation in Sacramento, and Walpin’s comments suggest that there were multiple oversight problems at the Corporation.

It may be that multiple parties inside and outside government had a hand in gutting the IG’s budget, but weakening this office means undermining accountability and oversight in the federal agency most closely identified with the nonprofit sector. Regardless of the reasons for the cut, it must be remedied.—Rick Cohen