Officials: ACORN will not get DHS firefighting grant
By Audrey Hudson
The Washington Times
WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials said Wednesday there is no chance that ACORN will get a Homeland Security grant it was awarded last month because of a provision in a bill signed into law last week prohibiting any federal funding to the controversial group.
Several members of Congress said they were pleased that ACORN will not get the money, which would have come from funding typically earmarked for fire departments across the country, but they questioned why it had been awarded to ACORN in the first place. At least one also still wants official assurance of a permanent withdrawal of the $997,402 fire safety grant.
"We are perplexed as to how this organization would even be considered for a first-responder grant," said a letter sent Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
The Washington Times reported erroneously Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of Homeland Security, awarded the nearly $1 million grant to ACORN in spite of a clear signal from Congress that it intended to cut off funding to the group.
FEMA officials said Wednesday that the award was posted on the agency's Web site Sept. 4, several days before a widely publicized video sting prompted the House and Senate to vote to cut off funding to the group.
FEMA spokesman Brent Colburn told The Times that the agency acted to stop ACORN funding after the Sept. 30 passage of a spending bill to fund government operations.
"None of the funds made available by this joint resolution or any prior act may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or allied organizations," according to the bill that President Obama signed into law.
"The group had not [cashed in the grant] and at that point we froze the money. ... The funds will never go to ACORN," he said, adding that the agency thinks the bill permanently bars ACORN from receiving any government funding.
He added that the grant was made originally only after "members of the firefighting community" led a review of it.
Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, said Wednesday that he was "glad that DHS has 'frozen' these funds," but said the grant still needed to be formally withdrawn. He said he fears that the provision will expire along with the so-called continuing resolution that is part of the bill and lapses at the end of this month. The FEMA spokesman said the agency understands that the provision is permanent law.
Mr. Vitter complained about the grant in a Sept. 22 letter to Ms. Napolitano. On Sept. 17, Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Florida and Mike Rogers of Michigan also wrote Ms. Napolitano saying ACORN "has engaged in questionable, and in some cases unlawful behavior, and should not receive federal funds."
"ACORN employees have been charged with voter fraud in multiple states. In addition, ACORN employees were recently caught on tape encouraging prostitution, tax fraud and human trafficking. This is not the type of organization to which scarce Homeland Security resources should be provided," Mr. Bilirakis and Mr. Rogers said.
On Sept. 10 biggovernment.com and Fox News began airing several videos that showed two conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her pimp receiving advice from ACORN on how to get government money.
The Senate first voted on Sept. 14 to suspend all ACORN funding, followed by a House vote on Sept. 17 to do the same.
Mr. Issa and Ms. Collins called on Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner to begin an immediate investigation of all grants, contracts and other forms of assistance to ACORN.
"Additionally, we ask that you determine why ACORN, which does not prepare its staff in emergency management, received first-responder grants that are more appropriately given to 'a first-responder organization,'" the lawmakers said.
"It is disturbing that ACORN was awarded a grant when fire departments all over the country are struggling to make ends meet and get the equipment and training they need to protect their local communities," Mr. Issa and Ms. Collins wrote. "A grant of nearly $1 million in Homeland Security funding was awarded to ACORN, money that might have been awarded to fire departments."
In addition to the congressional action against the group, the Internal Revenue Service has suspended ACORN from the agency's volunteer tax assistance program and the Census Bureau has barred the group from assisting with the 2010 census.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine has opened an investigation into the group at the request of Congress to probe the use of federal funds and possible criminal violations.
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