Grant Selection and Performance Task Force

Present: Kelly Day, Becky Hayes-Boober, William Guindon, Matt Williams; Michael Moran, Ed Barrett

Staff: Maryalice Crofton, Jamie McFaul

The members convened at 8:30 a.m. using the virtual meeting technology. 

The OIG summary of investigation and their recommendation for Axiom Education & Training Center (AETC) a former AmeriCorps program with Volunteer Maine

Background: The AmeriCorps Office of Inspector General (AmeriCorps OIG) investigated allegations of fraud, a poorly administered AmeriCorps Program, and wrongful termination of an AmeriCorps member at Axiom Education and Training Center (AETC), located in Machias, ME. This AmeriCorps formula program operated for only one of the three grant years awarded (2018-2019). The investigation started in March 2019 and just concluded. The notice of findings arrived at the Commission on January 3, 2024. The investigation did not find evidence sufficient to support the wrongful termination allegation. AmeriCorps OIG did find that AETC staff made false statements to the Commission in its AmeriCorps grant application and program progress reports. It also mismanaged the AmeriCorps Digital Inclusion Initiative (ADII) AmeriCorps Program. As a result of the investigation, it is recommended that AmeriCorps and the Commission disallow $181,008.19 in AmeriCorps grant payments. 

The Commission has until January 16 to respond. Commission staff have met with the federal AmeriCorps agency representative and consulted the state AAG. Monitoring records, program reports, AmeriCorps member timesheets and reflection logs, plus other records have been reviewed. Staff are asking the task force for guidance on the disallowance and response.

Discussion: Focused primarily on the disallowance of $181,008.19 in AmeriCorps grant funds awarded to AETC. Volunteer Maine Staff had looked at all the member timesheets to identify where and when the members served, how much time was spent in training, and whether the program operation was significantly out of alignment with the proposal (as alleged by the OIG report). There were significant flaws which were recognized by the Commission and became conditions of renewal for the second year. Yet, AmeriCorps members did provide digital literacy education and seminars to 2,517 community residents through sessions delivered at over 60 documented locations. Education took the form of multi-session classes. Seminars were one-time presentations to community groups about topics such as internet safety.

Of concern was the OIG findings that AETC misrepresented the status of a grant that would cover grantee share costs and reported $82,188 in personnel match that was not real. After thorough discussion, the GTF agreed upon unanimously that the Commission should recommend a reduced disallowance but recover an amount equivalent to the unallowable personnel match recorded. 

The Commission response is submitted to the federal AmeriCorps agency which makes its own recommendation to the OIG. Their report is due on February 2. The Commission will then need to take action when the final decision is communicated back to us.

The second recommendation that the OIG presented is for the Commission to review pre-award training materials to ensure that new grantees clearly understand the responsibilities, expectations, and realities of operating an AmeriCorps program. This program sponsor had ten months of technical assistance and training before launching the program but did not prepare adequately. A third recommendation related to funding to support the grantee share of program expenses. The GTF agrees that it is necessary to verify the likelihood partner and other funds will materialize. Verifying financial resources is part of monitoring but that is done after the program is operating. There is a need to probe better the application claims of sufficient funds. This is discussed in the second item on the agenda below. 

• Equitable and Accessible Grant making: A comparison of Massachusetts commission’s new approach to Maine commission’s process

Staff had developed a comparison of the Massachusetts commission’s revised grant making and Volunteer Maine’s process. The MA staff had presented to Commissioners last fall on the recommendation of an ASC consultant. That Commission is considered to be one of the leaders in reform of the state AmeriCorps process.

The side-by-side comparison was emailed to GTF members before the meeting so their discussion could focus on opportunities they saw to modify Maine’s process. Alterations that were agreed upon are 
•    offer small stipends to peer reviewers to offset supply costs for printing materials that are posted.
•    require less narrative by moving more information to the logic model section which has been expanded in terms of capacity.
•    Reduce the number of “stock” questions in the recorded interviews and have task force members submit questions based on their initial reading of the narratives. This step would occur while peer review was underway so that the interviews could be done in the same window they occur now (between peer review and tech review). The interviews are among the sources of information for tech review.

These changes can be piloted in the upcoming formula competitions (Spring 2024).

The meeting was adjourned at 9:02 a.m.