Federal and state officials have found indications of serious financial irregularities in the Inochinese refugee relief program, including widespread, double billing, billing for non-existent refugees, questionable contracting procedures and poor handling of resettlement programs.
When it formally ends Sept. 30, about $455 million in federal aid will have been spent by the State Department and the Department of Health Education and Welfare on nearly 145,000 Indochinese refugees who fled here and were resettled under the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. Congress is considering a bill to extend the program with additional funding for three more years.
Although millions of dollars appear to have been misspent the full extent of the financial irregularities may not become clear until fall.
No overall audit of the refugee program has ever been undertaken, so federal officials said they are unable to tell the breadth of the financial mismanagement or whether it involves corrupt handling or just poor money management. In some cases, officials said, only the loosest control has been maintained over the federal funds.
Kenneth Day, financial controller for the State Department's Indochina Task Force, said a full audit of the program will not be made until after the expiration of the refugee act in September.
According to Day, although the refugee relief program was started in May, 1975, no provision for an audit was made until about eight months ago, and funds for the audit were not approved until two weeks ago. If federal auditors find misuse of funds the money must be returned to the State Department or HEW, Day said. But, he added, "I really don't think we'll get substantial amounts of money back."
The most serious problems so far appear to exist in a portion of the refugee program administered by the State Department, which paid 19 voluntary relief agencies $500 for each refugee who was resettled.
State Department officials said they have already found duplicate claims filed by the agencies for 7,000 refugees and additional claims for 3,500 refugees who apparently do not exist, for a total irregularity of $25 million.
In addition officials are also concerned about the handling of the money once it was paid out to the various private and government agencies working with refugees. Some of the problem areas that exist include:
The Tolstodi Foundation, voluntary agency which received about $2.5 million in federal money, said nearly all of its mass resettlement programs needed up as failures. "The accounting has been a problem," said Jan S.F. Van Hoogstraten, program coordinator for the New York City Foundation.
Alla Ivask, director of Tolstodi's Indochina refugee program, said in one case $150,000 was provided to a sponsor in San Francisco to house and find security guard jobs for 500 refugees. The program collapsed after a month, she said, and "somebody took off with a flat bank account."
Another Tolstoi program cost more than $180,000 for housing and job training for 602 Indochinese refugees placed in a job training program at Brown Field south of San Diego. The program ended last year with some of the refugees claiming they were gypped out of their money, the head of the program sought by federal authorities on child molestation charges and the city of San Diego looking for someone to sue for thousands of dollars in back rent in the field.
Ivask said in another case dozens of light trucks were purchased for refugees enrolled in a job training program in Pomona, Calif. The program fell through and no one is certain of the whereabouts of the trucks, she said.
Auditors for the General Accounting Office found U.S. military officials attempting to divert millions of dollars in refugee funds to non-refugee uses, according to a State Department official. In one case in late 1975 the U.S. Navy tried to use $2.5 million to refit ships involved in removing refugees from Vietnam. The money was turned back after auditors pointed out that the ships were regularly scheduled for refitting anyway. The Pentagon eventually returned $6 million in misdirected funds to the State Department, according to State Department officials.
Asked by a reporter this week whether the money was returned before or after the GAO auditors looked into the situation, a State Department official laughed and said, "Are you kidding?"
Officials in the state of Washington have discovered discrpancies in the books of the private voluntary refugee relief program set up by the state to handle about 1,600 Indochinese resettled there. The state received $750,000 to run the program, and Betty McClelland, the director of the Washington Department of Emergency Services, which ran the program, said state audits are investigating "possible illegalities" in the letting of contracts. Federal money to the state has been exhausted well before it was supposed to [TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Federal officials have been particularly dismayed with Washington's problems, since the state's program once was considered was considered a "shining light" among the refugee operations.
Federal officials said it is difficult to determine how much of the financial problem is due to corruption and how much has been caused by bad money management. At the State Department, for example, responsibility for the $305 million allotted to the department in refugee funds went to the Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs, an office that until then had been mainly concerned with policy-making rather than money management.