The legal aid high life

Amanda Carpenter:

During the worst economic downturn in decades, the federal program that provides free legal help to impoverished Americans has spent tax dollars on a decorative natural-stone wall, no-bid contracts for consultants, alcohol for a congressional party and more than 100 casino hotel rooms that were never occupied, government documents show.

The Legal Services Corp. - which stirred national controversy a few years back by paying for limousines, first-class airfare and $14 Death by Chocolate pastries for its executives - has created new symbols of excessive spending in recent months, according to federal audit reports and congressional correspondence obtained by The Washington Times.

And the timing couldn't be worse.

Even as President Obama was calling on government to reduce wasteful spending, his administration was trying to persuade Congress to increase LSC's funding by $45 million to help more Americans who are being evicted from homes or are facing other economic hardships and are in need of subsidized legal help.

But lawmakers are wary, especially after receiving a barrage of recent, critical reports from the program's independent watchdog and the congressional auditing office.

Those reports found that the agency had violated the government's open-meeting law, had opened the door for its own employees to "double-dip" by collecting pay from the program's headquarters and separate programs, had failed to follow its own contracting procedures and had unnecessarily handed out consulting contracts without competitive bidding.

The problems are so widespread that auditors in March questioned more than $80,000 in expenses for a California program that provides legal help to Indians, including payment for 136 hotel rooms at the Pechanga Resort & Casino, in Temecula, Calif., that were never used for a conference on tribal court.

...

I will be surprised if the Democrats in Congress and the Obama White House do much about this. If they are still throwing billions of dollars at a corrupt organization like ACORN, this looks like chump change.

The story may be embarrassing, but the real story should be who if anyone gets fired because of this. At a time when top law firms are laying off experienced associates the pool of talent has rarely been greater. The administration should seize the opportunity and put some honest people in these positions. Treat them like they received TARP funds.

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