Feds question grant spending by Atlanta

In a detailed 96 page report, the U.S. Justice Department said the City of Atlanta may have mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Weed and Seed” grants from 2007-2010, charging that government officials were unable to document how money was used, and in some cases never gave investigators any answers.

“Some records were never provided,” the report stated, detailing how the “city’s Weed and Seed Director sometimes did not respond to us for weeks or provided incomplete or incorrect information.”

At one point, the feds were told the city had provided documents, but “the e-mail did not go through,” as the city took over one year to hand over information about how the grant money was spent.

“Weed and Seed” is a popular Justice Department program where the goal is to “weed out” crime and “seed” neighborhood revitalization.

But this report indicates some of the $1.1 million in grants paid out to Atlanta between 2007 and 2010 might not have been spent according to federal guidelines:

Among the findings:

+ The report questioned $393,869 in costs paid for by federal “Weed and Seed” grant money.

+ “Most significantly, the city charged unallowable and unsupported costs to the grants.”

+ “The city paid grant expenses without detailed original receipts, invoices, or other proper supporting documentation,” like consulting services

+ Atlanta made advance payments to contractors and other recipients, but never accounted for how the funds were actually spent.

+ Promotional and marketing expenses were recorded as “Catering” or “Telephone” expenses.

+ The report found “weakness” in internal controls, grant goals and accomplishments and the monitoring of sub-contractors.

The report made clear it was difficult for the feds to even put together those findings:

“We began the audit on September 21, 2011, but most of the documents we requested in advance were not provided for weeks or months. Some documents we requested were never provided. Over the course of the audit we followed up dozens of times with phone calls and e-mails. The city’s Weed and Seed Director sometimes did not respond to us for weeks or provided incomplete or incorrect information. Some of our questions pertaining to a payment to a former city employee were never answered.”

The report concluded that the city of Atlanta “did not have or did not follow internal controls” over how grant money was processed and spent.

“The city overpaid one invoice by $11,660 because it apparently did not review the invoice before making the payment,” the report stated. “We asked city officials why this happened, but we never received a response.”

The feds evaluated just more than half of the $1 million in grant funds that were spent by the City of Atlanta – and the results raised many questions.

“We found that $369,210 (68.5 percent) of the expenditures we tested was either unallowable or not supported by adequate documentation such as detailed receipts and invoices, timesheets, public announcements, meeting agendas, sign-in logs, or other supporting documents,” the report stated.

“We tested $469,800 in other direct costs (294 transactions) and found that $117,306 of these expenditures were unallowable,” the report said at a different point.

Some of those “unallowable” expenses included payments to a local prosecutor’s office for “Teen Court” sessions, more than $15,000 that went to a former city official for consulting work, over $5,000 for food, beverages and catering and a “construction project at the Mayor’s Office of Weed and Seed.”

That project seems to have cost $1,955 to install an “intercom/access control system at the Mayor’s Office of Weed and Seed.”

The City of Atlanta disputed that, as noted in one of the report’s footnotes:

“In its response to the draft report, the City of Atlanta stated that this item was incorrectly described in our draft report as a construction project in the Mayor’s Office. The city stated that this expenditure was for the installation of a door bell for an administrative office, which it considers to be an allowable expense. However, the grant was not approved for this type of cost and the invoice stated that the expense was for ‘intercom/access control system at the Mayor’s Office of Weed and Seed.'”

The report detailed other costs where federal grant money was used to pay for things as minor as a $49 late fee on a credit card payment, and $63 in plaque engraving that was recorded as a “Catering Expense.”

The entire report can be found here.