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Thursday, Mar 13, 2014

* Mark Brown writes, correctly, that state grants are the “soft underbelly of Illinois government”

This is where the bodies are buried — along with the money to pay them. This is where government waste goes to hide.

Everybody knows it, but nobody seems to be able to do much about it — until the dirt comes out in the wash. […]

Last week, federal prosecutors in Springfield won a conviction against Jeri Wright, the daughter of President Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who played a small role in a $1.25 million grant fraud scheme involving Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans and her husband, a Chicago police officer. Evans and her husband had already pleaded guilty to spending most of the money on themselves. […]

All told, the Sun-Times Chris Fusco reported last year, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Springfield has charged 13 people in recent years in connection with grant fraud schemes involving at least $16 million. […]

What are the common denominators in these cases?

Usually a lack of oversight from the state agency dispensing the money, and often some connection to Illinois politics. […]

Funny thing about state grants: the money is almost always earmarked on the surface for some valid altruistic purpose — AIDS prevention, saving a neighborhood cultural anchor, steering young men away from illegal activities that breed violence.

But time after time, we find that the grants that go bad were paid to political allies in recognition of past or future support.

The General Assembly has to get some control over this mess. The governor and legislators cannot continue to hand out these grants without any proof that the agencies are doing any good. There are some very good groups that do very good work, but there’s just way too much local politics involved with the granting process.

How many people have to go to prison before this is reformed?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - B.C. - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:24 am:

    The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is a pretty good model for how grants should be vetted. The guv appoints the director and the board membership is made up of automatic statatory appointments from public safety agencies, like the Atty General, Cook County State’s Atty, and a mix of downstate criminal justice officials, etc. They have a professional staff that evaluates applications and makes recommendations to the board. The grant isn’t made unless a majority of the board votes yes.

    It’s not a perfect set up, but the Violence Prevention Program controversy wouldn’t exists if those grants were filtered through this group.

  2. - Downstater - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:25 am:

    These grants are the mothers milk of garnering votes. Don’t look for the system to be changed soon. Remember. It’s only wasteful, if it is someone else’s district.

  3. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:28 am:

    Honest pol’s (they are easy to count) have known this to be a dirty fact of political life for a loooonng time, yet nearly all refused to speak up for fear of backlash from other pols with their snout in this slush tank. Those that do speak out (sen. Fitzgerald?) didn’t last long. It’s a well known but little acted upon corruption within the system. “for the People”, really means, ” for my Re-Election.”

  4. - RonOglesby - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:29 am:

    “The General Assembly has to get some control over this mess. ”

    Yup. But they are in on it. it buys votes and once in office all these folks care about is staying in office and spreading some altruistic frosting over vote buying.

  5. - liandro - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:29 am:

    My two cents: politics in general has a huge culture of “to the winner goes the spoils”. Illinois in particular has embraced a culture that this sort of corruption is how you win seats, how you keep seats, and how you duly reward those involved.

    I suspect a big part of the problem has to be solved in the activist circles. As long as large swathes of “activists” are willing to look away as long as they get their cut, or their “valid” concern addressed, it will continue. As long as we prize winning and protecting our own financial interests over honest leadership…

    Anyway, to answer your question: it doesn’t matter how many people go to prison, as long as there is a market it will continue.

    It reminds me of drug dealing: it rarely ends well in the long run, but there is such short term gain that there are always people who just can’t resist. You have to change the whole system, and you have to change the leadership.

  6. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:30 am:

    B.C. - excellent point. My concern is when grants are awarded, usually (but not always) there is only one entity that can “do the work.” Further, many of the grantees are “not-for-profits” without administrative staff capable of preparing the type of bid / proposal called for by the Procurement Code. And do we want provision of human service assistance held up by a bid protest?

  7. - Past the Rule of 85 - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:31 am:

    A strong case can be made the General Assembly has too much control with grants through member initiatives and clout to steer “competitive” grants to the right people. The grant recipients don’t think normal rules apply to them because of this.

  8. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    Easy to blame the gov and state departments but a whole lot of this driven by the GA and their pushing for their pet projects to get grants.

  9. - Kakistocracy Kid - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:34 am:

    What about Quinshaunta Golden at IDPH? She embezzled over $400k for her personal use. A lot of her court papers are sealed, why?

  10. - Irish - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:34 am:

    The irritating part of these grants is to be in an agency where the buildings at your facility are falling apart and you can’t get the money to fix them but you watch the Gov. hand out $50 million in grants to park districts to repair their buildings to make those Parks look good.

  11. - Former State Senator - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:40 am:

    “Member Initiatives” started under George Ryan and mushroomed out of control so that legislators could play Santa Claus. They’re part of the State’s spending problem.

  12. - Rufus - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:43 am:

    I agree with PTRo85, there are numerous examples of state employees that bring up questionable expenditures of a Provider’s grant.

    Time and time again state employees are told by the governors office, legistrative offices or one of the 3000 appointees. “It is not your job to question these expenditures, don’t bring this up again”.

    What’s worse is that the corruption has risen since two governors went to jail.

  13. - Sir Reel - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:45 am:

    For the most part, the problem is member initiative grants. They’re usually 100% upfront sole source grants. Agencies administering them have few rules and regulations to control the funds or grantees.

    Every State budget should be closely inspected for these giveaways. There’s rarely any evaluation of the effectiveness of them because that would expose their true nature.

    As long as the GA continues this charade, their argument that the State can’t afford its pension obligations rings hollow.

  14. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:56 am:

    B.C.- while I mostly agree with you- they are who are directly involved with the Violence Prevention Program because IVPA was merged with their office last year and they had to respond to the audit. There are still major issues currently. Also you must keep in mind that those who are on the board have political capital. When you get to those levels, you must have been vetted by someone.

    It’s not just grants. It’s the entire POS system. Any agency that relies on government for it’s livelihood to provide services is directly affected by this. Those agencies that are successful have significant political capital. I don’t believe Illinois to be unique in this by any means.
    Every private agency that I have worked for has significant political relationships. That’s how they are able to get the contracts they maintain, how they get on the “expedited” pay list, how they get the County(working with banks) to forgive several hundred thousand dollars in mortgages on properties, and how they get earmarked capital improvement money.
    Am I saying that some of those agencies don’t provide excellent services? No- but it’s difficult to discern who’s who. That would be like shooting darts in the dark.

  15. - Cassidy - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:01 am:

    The General Assembly has an entire unit at DCEO just to handle legislator’s individual grants within their districts and its overseen by the DCEO director’s office.

  16. - Palm Tree - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:10 am:

    The legislature took care of this. It’s called Budgeting for Results. Now, state programs are only funded by the legislature if they are proven effective and worthy of receiving state dollars. Otherwise the diligent legislators won’t appropriate funds for the program.


  17. - Jen - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:26 am:

    If an agency wants to get the appropriation authority and funds to provide services they must get the votes from legislators - when an appropriation bill comes through with a member initiative included - 1) the other legislators voted for it and 2) if we want to pay the agencies to deliver the services we follow our approps and pay the bills - some of the member initiatives are very well deserved though.

  18. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:31 am:

    ===The General Assembly has to get some control over this mess. The governor and legislators cannot continue to hand out these grants without any proof that the agencies are doing any good. There are some very good groups that do very good work, but there’s just way too much local politics involved with the granting process.

    How many people have to go to prison before this is reformed?===


  19. - BW - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:51 am:

    Welcome to Illinois where the grant applications are scored, but the points don’t matter.

  20. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    My advice:

    Believe it or not, state agencies do not require nonprofits be registered with the AG’s office in order to receive a grant or contract. In fact, if you are 100 percent dependent on govt contracts for revenue, you are exempt from registration requirement. Foolhardy!

    By the same token, the AG’s office is charged with policing nonprofits. They need more resources and a deeper commitment.

    In addition, no nonprofit should be receiving a contract unless they meet the minimal requirements set out by the Better Business Bureau for transparency, governance and financial management.

    That said: lawmakers are way to involved in the contract/grant process. Moving to a multi-year budget and contract process and making agency director terms concurrent with governors terms will help. But lawmakers need to exercise some personal restraint.

    Also, current reimbursement rates are such that it is very difficult for legit nonprofits to deliver real results, opening up the field to shady characters promising the sky and delivering little. Kinda like a healthy lawn, our infrastructure of human services needs to be well-maintained, or you end up with a lot of weeds and dying grass.

    One last thing: human services are exempt from the procurement code, for some good reasons I think, but we would be well-served by an independent agency similar to the procurement board that purchases human services on behalf of DHS, Aging, board of Ed, Veterans, etc…

  21. - Norseman - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 10:59 am:

    Former State Senator, with all due respect, the term “Member Initiatives” may have come in vogue during the Ryan administration and relates to a easier process used at the time. Political pork grants have been around for ages, or at least the 35 years I’ve been around Springfield.

  22. - dupage dan - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    It’s not so long ago that we saw what it took to expose the scandal involving legislators using scholarships to Illinois universities as a hand out perk. The amounts involved there pale in comparison to the 50 million smackers involved in the most recent mess. This could be far more important than any term limit actions. I can’t see any effort to rein it in to have any legs. Just like re-maps, we have to get the folks who benefit DIRECTLY to end a program. That this involves allowing them to garner support using someone else’s money is particularly galling.

    $50 million - that’s some big money. Lot’s of screaming gonna happen if an honest effort to screen these payouts more effectively gets rolling. The pols are gonna hope this goes away quietly and quickly.

  23. - Norseman - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:05 am:

    === How many people have to go to prison before this is reformed? ===

    The question should probably read, “how many legislators and political appointees have to go to prison before this is reformed?”

    Agency shortcomings in handling all kinds of grants are numerous and inexcusable, but political grant sponsors also apply pressure if not implemented the way they want.

  24. - Give Me A Break - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:17 am:

    Not all human services are exempt from the procurement code. That being said, how about someone ask some appropriation committee members about the number of times they have taken the axe to agency administrative lines because they view those line as nothing but paper pushers. Guess what, those paper pushers are the people who monitor grants and contracts for compliance. You can blame all the “agency shortcomings” you want, but how many of you would advocate for hiring more “white collar paper pushers”? I suspect there would be great outrage from many. Agency budget and contract staffs have been cut to the bone.

  25. - liandro - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:18 am:

    Yellow Dog Democrat is making solid points concerning the system side of it.

  26. - Soccermom - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    YDD– good advice.

  27. - Mouthy - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 11:55 am:

    When you get done with grants move on to consultants, and when you get done with consultants move on to…..

  28. - Nieva - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 12:44 pm:

    How about stopping these grants? I know the local fire departments need new trucks and the schools need new building’s but maybe we just need to take a couple of years off and let this dry up. When federal revenue sharing stopped everyone survived. Lets pay off the huge backlog of unpaid bills before we spend on a bike trail that has more possum traffic on it than human.

  29. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    ===the local fire departments need new trucks===

    Totally different program. We’re talking programmatic grants here.

  30. - Eugene - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 1:14 pm:

    It won’t be reformed short of some kind of revolution because grants (along with contracts) are the new patronage. Many elected officials would fight like hell against anything that would really clean up this situation. Also, state agencies have lost the personnel they need to oversee contracts, and there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with that.

  31. - Nieva - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 3:00 pm:

    They may not be programmatic grant but Pat has been down here passing them out like candy at a parade. Sorry I got the two confused.

  32. - Precinct Captain - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 3:01 pm:

    ==- B.C. - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 9:24 am:==

    It sounds set up well, but it also sounds like a bastion of the status quo where new ideas and innovation are stifled to protect those already in power.

  33. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 3:31 pm:

    Thanks Liandro and Soccermom.

    I know there was some snark hidden away up there, but Budgeting for Results ought to address much of this in the long run.

    There is another issue.

    Just as we could all benefit from some consolidation of school districts, some consolidation of nonprofits would be useful in the social services sector.

    This is harder than it sounds in the nonprofit sector, as we all saw with the collapse of Hull House.

    Foundations could help facilitate the consolidation of state providers, reducing overhead and streamlining service delivery by funding some “buyouts” of CEO’s and other senior staff and facilitating the merger of boards and their egos.

  34. - Norseman - Thursday, Mar 13, 14 @ 4:02 pm:

    === I know there was some snark hidden away up there, but Budgeting for Results ought to address much of this in the long run. ===

    YDD, I agree that it ought to, but it won’t. Budgeting for Results wins are going to demonstrated by proponents using low-hanging fruit. Having coordinated performance review activities for an agency I wish that was not the case. There are too many politically popular programs and grants that will be protected regardless of whether they meet meaningful performance objectives or not. Program protection is not strictly the fault of lawmakers, the governor and agency staff are also guilty.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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