GAO Report Critical of Legal Services Corporation Grant Administration Procedures

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on practices of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), entitled “Improvements Needed in Controls over Grant Awards and Grantee Program Effectiveness.”  As is suggested by its title, the report takes a fairly critical tone, particularly regarding LSC’s administration of financial grants to the 136 independent legal services providers that it funds throughout the U.S.:

Although LSC’s controls over reviewing and awarding grants are intended to help ensure fair and equitable consideration, they need improvement. Final award and fund decisions are documented and approved; however, LSC’s grant application evaluation process and associated decisions were not documented, including key management discussions in the evaluation process…

…At times, LSC did not adhere to its budget execution process in awarding contracts supporting its key grant-making responsibilities…

…Missing or flawed internal controls limit LSC’s ability to effectively manage its grant award and grantee performance oversight responsibilities.
 

 

The report contained several new recommendations to correct the problems it identified, mostly centered on improving internal management/administration procedures.  And as is reported in today’s National Law Journal, there are some silver linings:

But it wasn’t all bad news. The GAO noted that it issued two reports about LSC in 2007 with 17 recommendations, and that LSC had implemented 11 of them. Nonetheless, GAO came up with 17 new actions to improve LSC’s operations… LSC president Victor Fortuno in a letter to GAO accepted all the recommendations, though he asserted several have already been implemented.

In a press release issued yesterday, LSC evinced a willingness to carry out recommended changes:

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) will implement recommendations of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to improve internal controls over grant awards, LSC President Victor M. Fortuno said today…  “The stewardship of taxpayer dollars is one of our most important responsibilities,” President Fortuno said. “We accept all GAO recommendations and will closely work with the GAO and the Congress to enhance oversight of grant awards and the performance of the independent nonprofit programs that receive LSC funding.”

This comes during a time when LSC and advocates for equal access to justice are hoping for an appropriations boost in order to channel more money into legal services.  The recession has not only profoundly impacted poor people, but it’s created more poor people as individuals and families have slipped toward poverty.  As  a consequence, the need for legal services within low-income communities has swollen.  But legal services providers are struggling with diminished revenue sources as they’re trying to meet the greater need.  For more, see this piece from the Brennan Center’s Emily Savner.

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