[nfbmi-talk] Fw: disabled work program mired in fraud cnn
drob1946 at gmail.com
Tue Jul 28 13:31:46 UTC 2015
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From: joe harcz Comcast
To: David Robinson NFB MI
Cc: terry Eagle ; Mark Eagle ; Elmer Cerano MPAS ; MARK MCWILLIAMS MPAS ; BRIAN SABOURIN ; Marlene Malloy MCRS Dir. ; Sarah Gravetti MISILC DNM ; Rodney Craig MISILC
Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 7:37 AM
Subject: disabled work program mired in fraud cnn
Sources: Disabled work program mired in fraud - CNN.com
CNN exclusive: AbilityOne and SourceAmerica are under investigation
AbilityOne program funnels about $3 billion per year of taxpayer money to fund contracts for goods and services
Sources say the agency is allowing jobs to be taken away from disabled people
(CNN)The nation's premier federal program that provides work for people who are severely disabled is mired in widespread corruption, financial fraud and
violations of the law, numerous sources tell CNN. And instead of helping the severely disabled find work, the taxpayer-funded agency is at times allowing
jobs to be taken away from the disabled, the sources say.
AbilityOne, along with the nonprofit agency that manages its program for the severely disabled, SourceAmerica, are being investigated by authorities for
illegal operations, financial fraud, mismanagement, operating in violation of the law, steering of contracts, and possibly obstruction of justice. Several
inside sources tell CNN the program is among the worst cases of its type they've ever seen in a federal agency.
CNN has learned the U.S. Department of Justice has begun its own investigation into the various allegations. In addition, at least four separate inspectors
general offices have active investigations into AbilityOne and SourceAmerica. The OIG from the General Services Administration, Department of Defense and
the Veterans Administration are among those investigating, all led by the Office of Inspector General from the State Department.
What is AbilityOne?
The AbilityOne program
was first created with ambitious, altruistic goals by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress in 1938 to help give jobs to the blind.
The AbilityOne program funnels about $3 billion per year of taxpayer money to fund contracts for goods and services across the country. For a company to
get a contract with AbilityOne, 75% of that company's work must be performed by blind or severely disabled employees, who cannot work in a normal job.
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. So, one key
allegation is that SourceAmerica, a nonprofit agency with virtually no oversight other than AbilityOne, largely decides how roughly $2.3 billion in U.S.
taxpayer money is spent, according to numerous sources.
"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.
Several lawsuits have been filed in recent years accusing AbilityOne and SourceAmerica of awarding contracts not on the basis of merit, but rather through
unfair influence by decision-makers who have interest in the outcome.
"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. "No one involved in making award recommendations to the commission is employed by an organization seeking those contracts,"
read the statement sent to CNN. "We want to be very clear, SourceAmerica board members are not involved in the evaluation of contract bids or recommendations
to the AbilityOne Commission."
Read the full statement from SourceAmerica
Disabled losing jobs
It took Randall Love years to find work after a tumor on his spine left him nearly paralyzed in 2008. The IT professional struggled through physical therapy
to even be able to move in his home, and he can't travel to hold down a regular job. He finally found work at home through an AbilityOne contract, and
it changed everything for him.
"It gives me ... a sense of being worthwhile, a sense of being able to contribute to things, a sense of being able to help others," said Love. "I get up
just like everybody else in the morning. And I go to work, too. I'm not disabled. That's why I say it's the cure for me," he said.
But Love and numerous other disabled people were left jobless when the company that hired them, NTI, lost its AbilityOne contract to a company named Peckham
Industries. NTI officials appealed the contract award multiple times detailing what they call "overwhelming evidence" that Peckham would "not be in compliance"
with the 75% requirement under law.
Mary Joan Willard, the executive director of Boston-based NTI, blames the government for not having a system of checking whether a company is compliant.
Willard and NTI have sued the U.S. government, and by extension, AbilityOne and SourceAmerica, in the contract dispute.
Peckham disputes NTI's allegations, saying in a statement to CNN, "We are now put in a position of being a victim of false allegations by an unsuccessful
bidder. ... The fact is that Peckham EXCEEDS the 75% requirement with a proven record of employment of severely disabled about 80%. Peckham has consistently
maintained the required ratio for persons with severe disabilities served through the AbilityOne program." When CNN asked for proof of the employment numbers,
Peckham declined, citing ongoing litigation.
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.
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