Feds Can Donate to More Charities, But Will They?

Feds Can Donate to More Charities, But Will They?

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta noted the changes are important as the workforce becomes more mobile.
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta noted the changes are important as the workforce becomes more mobile. 

Federal employees now can donate to thousands more charities as part of the 2014 Combined Federal Campaign. The question is, will they?

This year the Office of Personnel Management has launched the Universal Giving program, which allows feds to donate to more than 24,000 charities nationwide for the annual CFC drive. Before the change, employees could only give to national charities, or those in their specific CFC region. This greatly expands the universe of charities: for instance, federal workers in the Washington area, who could donate to 4,000 groups last year, now have the option of donating to 24,000 organizations in 2014.

“This is important as the American workforce becomes more mobile – [federal employees can donate to] the charities closest to [their] hearts regardless of the region they currently work in,” said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta in a call with reporters on Wednesday. There are 151 CFC regions.

But participation in the CFC has decreased notably over the last four years. Donations dipped 19 percent in 2013 over 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year of declining contributions for the federal government’s annual giving drive. Last year feds gave $209 million, down from $258.3 million in 2012. The 2012 figure was a 5.3 percent reduction from 2011. Click here for a chart that shows annual CFC donations from 2004 to 2013.

The 16-day government shutdown in the middle of last year’s drive didn’t help, though OPM gave employees an extra month to pledge donations. The annual drive runs from Sept. 1 through Dec. 15.

Federal employees traditionally have been very generous with their donations; $7 billion has been raised for charities since CFC’s creation in 1961. But the past few years of pay freezes, anti-federal employee rhetoric and other threats to pay and benefits, soured some workers on giving. An informal poll conducted by Government Executive in 2012 found that feds wanted to continue giving to charitable causes but showed less enthusiasm for doing so through the CFC.

Last spring, OPM announced an overhaul of the CFC, based on recommendations from a commission tasked with figuring out how to improve the program. A 2012 audit of the Washington-area CFC found more than $300,000 in questionable expenses. Some of the money went toward overcharges for food, travel and other campaign expenses, the audit said. As a result of that report, OPM prohibited spending donations on meals, travel or entertainment. In light of the IG’s audit, the commission also recommended that OPM improve its oversight of the CFC program and reduce certain costs associated with it.

Some of the reforms OPM incorporated – which don’t take effect until 2016 — were not popular with lawmakers. Republicans and Democrats took issue with OPM’s proposal to require charities to pay an application fee to participate in CFC. The fees could disproportionately hurt small charities and discourage them from participating in the campaign, the oversight leaders argued, which could in turn drive away would-be donors.

For 2014, in addition to being able to donate to more charities, federal employees who want to give can use a new online feature and search organizations by name, keyword or tax code. Federal employees interesting in participating in the CFC should visit OPM’s website for more information.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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