NEWS THAT the nonprofit entrusted by D.C. officials to hand out government grants has been mismanaged to the point of bankruptcy should come as no surprise. This is the organization that allowed then-D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to help city youths. It awarded $471,405 to a former pro boxer who used city money, not to mentor at-risk youths, but to pay for cruise ship gambling, concerts and speeding tickets. It was called out by federal auditors for its slipshod administration of the D.C. school voucher program.
What is surprising — actually, shocking — is that an organization with so many obvious problems was allowed to survive so long. Only now, finally, are plans being made to shut down the operation — and D.C. taxpayers find themselves paying the price.
The board of DC Trust, previously called the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., met in emergency session last Tuesday to begin shuttering the organization, including laying off its employees. Board chair Marie C. Johns called the trust’s operation “reckless.” Among the issues, according to reporting by The Post’s Aaron C. Davis: exorbitant spending and overhead, misuse of credit cards and use of grant monies to underwrite operational costs.
When the trust was established, under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the idea was to leverage public dollars to raise private money for groups providing services to city youths. There was some initial success, notably $8 million from the Wallace Foundation to support after-school programs, but the organization soon evolved into a vehicle for elected officials to steer money to favored nonprofits, often with ties to friends or campaign donors. The Thomas scandal cemented perception of the trust as a slush fund, and private investment dried up. But officials refused to pull the plug, and the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) made changes, including installing new leadership, it promised would result in sound business practices.
Whether those officials brought in to right the organization are guilty of more than poor management is an issue best left to the city’s inspector general and attorney general. It will be incumbent on Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) administration to sort out the impact on youth programs, including those receiving extra funds allocated last year for violence prevention. Hopefully, effective programs will not be curtailed. But if the District thinks there is value in providing government grants to nonprofits, it must put in place a process that is transparent, competitive and accountable.