May 18th, 2010
03:05 PM ET
13 years ago

GAO uncovers fraud, abuse at Head Start centers

Washington (CNN) - Staff members at eight Head Start centers manipulated income information given to them by undercover applicants so that the applicants would get benefits they were not qualified for, according to a Government Accountability Office report being released Tuesday.

In response to the report, Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius has notified the more than 1,600 operators of Head Start facilities nationwide of new steps being taken to crack down on fraud.

The GAO report says undercover applicants made 15 visits to 13 centers in six states and the District of Columbia to register their fictitious children.

At eight of those centers, Head Start employees disregarded "part of the families' income to register over-income children into under-income slots" or "lied about applicants' employment status or misrepresented their earnings," the report says.

The Head Start program provides child development services to around 1 million children of low-income families. Because of its popularity, many Head Start centers have waiting lists for spots for children. The GAO report raises concerns that many Head Start slots are taken up by children of families that are not low income, thereby leaving the targeted low income children on the waiting lists.

At a Wisconsin center, the report says, a Head Start associate knowingly included the income from only one of the child's guardians so that the family would qualify for the Head Start program.

And in Pennsylvania, a Head Start associate disregarded $23,000 in income for a family of three so that they would qualify. Then, when told that the mother also received some additional cash income from a part time job, the associate replied, "That's your business," the report says.

The GAO undercover operation also looked at centers in California, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas and the District of Columbia.

In her letter, sent Monday, Sebelius said that the department's inspector general's office is following up on the incidents reported by the GAO, and that those incidents and any other allegations of fraud could result in criminal prosecutions.

Among other steps the Health and Human Services Department will take, she said, are increasing the number of unannounced visits to monitor centers, requiring operators to improve any inadequate controls to prevent errors and other lapses, and developing "new regulations that promote program integrity."

"Allowing ineligible children to enroll in the program is a blatant violation of head Start's rules and it steals opportunity from children who need it most," Sebelius wrote.

Filed under: GAO
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. An 8 year old elephant dung heap does not turn into compost in just 18 months!

    Now that is change I can believe in!

    Keep rooting out the waste of the taxpayers' money, President Obama!

    Great job!

    May 18, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. Stacie

    This increased focus on governmental monitoring is great! It should have been done sooner. I work at a social service agency. We don't do this, but I've heard about other agencies that do. The people who lie to get unqualified families in should be fired. The slots should be taken away from the agencies and given to agencies that follow the rules! Allowing families who shouldn't qualify for services into the programs just takes a space away from a child who really needs and qualifies for head start.

    May 18, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  3. Eric

    Shock of shocks! Fraud in a government program!!? Surely, you gest.

    Just like a mountain of grain, when there is a pile of "free money," you can guess where the rats will gather.

    It's time to end these programs.

    May 18, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  4. PalmReader

    Way to go HHSD! Not only CAN these allegations of fraud be considered for criminal prosecution, those individuals found criminally responsible must be prosecuted to the full extend of law.

    Stealing opportunities from the poorest of poor children is just wrong on so many levels . . .

    May 18, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Wherever there is government money there is always fraud and in most cases you find the same people moving around from one government funded program to another stealing.

    May 18, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  6. Some Republican Guy

    Goldangit!!! That sounds just like what happened with ACORN!!!! That's why we need to shut down all government programs that help poor people. Get rid of Medicaid, Welfare, Public housing, Social security, School lunches, libraries, farm subsidies and everything!!!!!! We don't even have enough money to fund our military and the narcisstic elitest obamabots give my tax dollars to welfare queens who watch Oprah and smoke dope all day!!!!!!!! Poor people are to lazy to work!!!!! We've got 10% unemployment because one in ten Americans is a lazy welfare queen!!!!!! They need to pull themselves up by they're boot straps!! If you don't believe me just go to a blue state and watch how they drive!!!!!!!!!!! Succeed from the union before its to late!!!!!!!!! Have a nice day!

    May 18, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. SocialismBad

    You'll find this same type of fraud and MUCH WORSE in every government program, which is why these programs need to stop or be policed and people jailed or fined for this fraud. They know all they'll get right now is a slap on the wrist..."bad bad bad girl".

    And I highly doubt lower income people are on waiting lists. These crooks just open up more centers to scam the government AND US!

    This is why this government needs to be funded at HALF of what it now has. These goverment give-away programs are nothing but magnets for the crooks and scammers in this country.

    May 18, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  8. pc

    thank god for the democrats! we are seeing the fraud and abuse being cleaned up from the mess of the bush years.

    May 18, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  9. Dar

    Another ACORN comes to light, why cant people do it right and play by the rules

    May 18, 2010 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  10. GI Joe

    Fire every one of the people trying to partake in the fraud. We have to root out every republican left over from he Cheney/Shrub debacle.

    Otherwise, we'll get the blame - AGAIN - for republican fraud.

    May 18, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. Bill in California

    OH MY! WHAT A SHOCK!! Hey, it's ONLY taxpayer money. You know the 47% of the populace who actually pay income taxes. So let's 'SPREAD THE WEALTH'!!! Time to shoo the PIGS from the feeding trough! RIP DIMRATS 2010. RIP EMPEROR 2012.

    May 18, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  12. aproudmemberoftheunpatrioticmob

    This is one of the failed "Great Society" programs the democrats sponsored that have cost us $3 trillion in tax money and made the country worse. Another great liberal idea like Obozocare that catered to unions and failed to to deliver.

    May 18, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  13. Dave

    Okay, before the rampaging conservative bloggers and right wing nut jobs get too frothy about the mouth consider this about the above press release:

    The inspectors made 15 visits to 13 centers. The Head Start program administers to one million children. The article above states there are 1600 centers nationwide. That means that the inspectors went to just .008 of the centers nationwide. Okay, lets say that each center has 3 Head Start personnel (probably WAY low). That is 4800 personnel nationwide. Since it sounds like the inspectors talked to only one person in each of these 13 centers that means that they talked to .002 of the personnel who work in the Head Start centers nationwide. Let's say that half of those 13 people the inspectors talked to were new or just didn't understand the rules properly (hey, it happens at every job). That means that only 7 (rounding here) people the inspectors talked to MAYBE were pulling something funny. That is .001 of the number of personnel who work in Head Start centers nationwide.

    I am a CPA and a Computer Scientist and crunch numbers all day. This is what I do for a living. This is neither Democrat or Republican. This report and this article are about as meaningless as they come. As they say on the when you are doing an audit, these numbers are not material and should not be used as a basis for any decision making.

    Of course, this will not keep every politician and radio/talk show host from jumping all over this report like hyenas on a dead cow. Which shows that these people are either one of the following:

    – stupid
    – really stupid

    And you would be really stupid to listen to them.

    May 18, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  14. Willy Brown

    My guess they voted for hopey and changey too.

    May 18, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  15. November

    Well, while we're busy saving Half a Trillion dollars by eliminating fraud in Medicare, I guess we should be able to save another Half a Trillion by eliminating fraud in Head Start. Heck, if the government can keep this up we'll actually start turning a profit!

    The unicorn says, "Change you can believe in! The more the government controls, the more government waste we can eliminate! You just need Hope..."

    May 18, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    and it steals opportunity from children who need it most," Sebelius wrote.

    There's a new sheriff in town! Good job, keep it up!

    More of these undercover operations need to take place (look MORE job opportunities!). They especially need to take place at places that accept Medicare/Medicaid, Section 8 Housing, in sum anything that is government subsidized. There's a lot of waste and graft going on and it needs to be weeded out from the TOP down.

    May 18, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  17. matt

    are the people who altered the information facing criminal charges? Is there any way to describe this other than fraud? That's the best way to enforce the rules – charge the people who violate the rules. But I'm sure our attorney general will never prosecute them. This is ridiculous – just like everything else that comes out of Washington.

    May 18, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  18. Eric in Denver

    Note to all Head Start employees if things don't work out at your present job there are plenty of open seats in the white house staff or ACORN.

    May 18, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  19. Naqib

    Has a certain ACORN ring too it.

    Nothing to see here... just another impecable liberal program.... please move along

    May 18, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |

    Now I am sure some rightwing nut or teabagger will blame this on POTUS. Let me tell you, fraud of this type as well in medicare billing has been going on well before Prez Obama took office so I will say it now just SHUT THE HELL UP GOP & TEABAGGERS.

    May 18, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Fraud is fraud but if you have ever filed anything with the government you know it is a nightmare. People that need a little assistance can't get it. A perosn on permanent disability that wants to try and get back to work doesn't dare because they will lose the potential benefits for life.
    If you are an honest person, you have to lie in order fo get results. Maybe the Head Start workers should be thanked for figuring out how to help people in need, if thta's what they were doing. It if was just abusing the system- jail them!

    May 18, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  22. Randolph Carter, I'm no expert, but...

    aproudmemberoftheunpatrioticmob May 18th, 2010 3:32 pm ET

    "This is one of the failed "Great Society" programs the democrats sponsored that have cost us $3 trillion in tax money and made the country worse. Another great liberal idea like Obozocare that catered to unions and failed to to deliver."

    Yeah, if only previous administrations hadn't "borrowed" all of that money from those great society programs to pay for their jobs program, oops I mean wars, perhaps they wouldn't be in the shape they're in right now. Have a nice day!

    May 18, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  23. Rick

    @Dave – Your math is accurate, but your conclusion is flawed. Since the sample set was 13 centers and 8 were found to have a problem, I would conclude that it is wide-spread and over 60% had issues. If ALL of the centers were visited and only found 8 with problems, that would be small. Would you still eat at any McDonalds if 8 of the 13 you visited had bad food?

    May 18, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. Obama the liar

    no big deal, just print more of that free Obama money. Spread the wealth.

    May 18, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. Steve- Illinois

    Fraud and abuse is what's happening with Arizona!! Holder, Napolitano, and Crowley, have all publicly made statements against a bill that not a one of them has even bothered to read!!!
    Does anyone wonder why other government agencies are playing fast and loose with the rules? This is the problem when government is more concerned with government, than it is the people it is meant to serve!!!

    May 18, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
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