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Nonprofits Scramble To Meet Terror Rules

Worker Screening Required for CFC Funds

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 14, 2004; Page A04

When Capital Hospice, a nonprofit that provides care to about 4,000 terminally ill patients and their families in the Washington area each year, hires an employee or takes on a new volunteer, its background checks are extensive, as required by state and federal law and health care accrediting organizations.

But next week, it will add one more check: screening its 600 workers and volunteers against voluminous government lists of suspected terrorists.

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"From this point forward, we're going to review everybody who is employed," including volunteers, hospice spokesman Spencer Levine said yesterday.

If it doesn't undertake the checks, it risks being dropped from the Combined Federal Campaign, the fundraising drive among federal workers who jointly contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to Capital Hospice through the CFC each year.

The terrorist watch list checks are a new requirement for nonprofits -- social service organizations, private schools, arts groups and others -- that participate in the CFC.

The 40-year-old CFC received pledges totaling about $250 million last year. Of that, $50 million came from Washington area federal workers who contributed to about 3,000 national and local organizations.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the CFC, the rule is required by an executive order President Bush signed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under the order, organizations must ensure that no private or public money is diverted to terrorist groups.

A coalition of 16 national nonprofits led by the American Civil Liberties Union vowed this week to fight the rule, which affects the thousands of national and local nonprofits across the country that will take part in the fundraising starting Oct. 1.

The ACLU has dropped out of the CFC, saying that conducting such checks would violate the privacy rights of its employees. Other nonprofits, including Amnesty International USA, said this week that they also would quit the CFC, saying the lists are riddled with errors and so full of common Arab and other ethnic names as to be virtually useless.

Yesterday, OPM -- which is declining to comment publicly on the issue -- e-mailed the organizations that run its local CFCs and advised them to expect more defections.

But representatives of many nonprofits based in the Washington area interviewed yesterday said they either were not aware of the requirement until this week's publicity or were confused by its provision.

The American Red Cross, based in the District, said it plans to comply with the directive and check the names of its 4,000 employees nationwide against the lists. But a spokesman for its local affiliate, the Red Cross of the National Capital Area, said it was unaware of the provision. "We haven't heard of anything, and we haven't signed anything," Cameron Ballantyne said.

The rule requires CFC participants to certify that they do not "knowingly employ" suspected terrorists or contribute money to organizations with terrorist ties. It refers charities to U.S. government Web sites that list tens of thousands of people and organizations with alleged ties to terrorist activities.

But officials at So Others Might Eat, a Washington organization that provides food, housing and other services to the poor, said they believe the organization's regular background checks of employees and job applicants are sufficient to meet the CFC standard.

Other than that, "absolutely, we will not knowingly hire folks that are on watch lists," said Emily Patillo, development coordinator for So Others Might Eat. Last year, the organization received about $800,000 from the CFC.

Global Impact, which administers the local CFC, said it held several seminars during which it alerted local charities to the new rule. But because it was the first year, "some of the charities may not have realized the implications of the rules and instructions when they signed their application," spokesman Anthony De Cristofaro said.

De Cristofaro said his organization has checked the names of its 52 employees against the list. "We feel our . . . instructions were very explicit."

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