Audit finds problems in ACORN grant


ACORN may have filed for bankruptcy last month, but its name continues to surface: A newly released audit finds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency skirted the rules to award an ACORN affiliate $450,484 in fire prevention and safety funds.

The idea behind the fiscal 2007 grant was to let the ACORN Institute develop best practices for community organizations to canvass high-risk neighborhoods and install smoke detectors and other safety equipment, according to the audit by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

In its grant application, the ACORN Institute claimed to have plenty of experience in that line via a program known as the Urban Fire Initiative. As it turned out, that initiative was concocted for the grant application; the IG found no evidence that it had ever been involved in any previous fire prevention and safety activities.

A FEMA panel of fire service experts recommended against funding the institute’s application. FEMA officials then overrode that recommendation without documenting how they had addressed the panel’s concerns. They did, however, cut the institute’s request from $1 million to $450,484 and said the grant was approved because it was for a “concentrated effort for prevention in high risk communities.” FEMA later awarded the ACORN Institute almost another $1 million, but after Congress shut down federal funding for ACORN, that 2008 grant was rescinded.

For anyone who’s forgotten, ACORN is the community organizing group where a couple of employees were caught in a video sting offering advice on how to set up a prostitution ring.

ACORN never recovered from the ensuring hullabaloo and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month. That may make it difficult for FEMA to follow through on one of the inspector general’s recommendations: Requiring the ACORN Institute to return almost $161,000 in undocumented grant expenses.


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