Investigation Questions Brown Foundation Spending

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)-- A new federal investigative reports questions all National Park Service funds that were given to the Brown Foundation.

The Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General examined whether the foundation misused federal money allocated through a cooperative agreement with NPS. An earlier audit identified more than $620,000 in questionable costs, from hotel bills to dining, entertainment and transportation.

The new report, posted January 31, states a complete review was not possible due to "poor financial management and commingling of funds by the Foundation as well as missing documentation to justify expenses." The report states the Foundation did not follow guidance from Office of Management and Budget or follow federal travel regulations.

In addition, the report states the Foundation's mixing of funds made it "impossible to clearly track specific costs back to the cooperative agreement."

The Brown Foundation is set up to share the store of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on school segregation and, according to its web site, to "build upon the work of those involved in the Brown decision to ensure equal opportunity for all people."

The report found NPS officials failed to adequately manage the contract, and notes it was due to a hands-off approach and possible political influence. The report notes an unnamed former U.S. Senator contacting the NPS deputy director for the Midwest Regional Office endorsing Foundation founder Cheryl Brown Henderson's 2010 appointment as superintendent of the Brown v. Board National Historic Site. The report states the endorsement may have caused employees to fear taking action against Brown Henderson.

Brown Henderson assumed the superintendent's position in June 2010 and stepped down at the end of the year.

Her successor in the job, David Smith, is noted in the report as telling investigators he received a call in July 2011 from the unnamed former senator's senior policy advisor mentioning rumors of the Foundation investigation, telling Smith the Foundation's work was important and that the "NPS might have problems with the Foundation" if it was put on reimbursement status.

Brown Henderson is the daughter Oliver Brown, who was the lead plaintiff in the desegregation case. She has said in the past that the spending problems occurred before she became superintendent of the historic site. She also said the money the Foundation received was important in educating people about the Supreme Court case.

The report shows the Foundation received a total of $1,877,370.75 in NPS funding from 2005 to 2011. The Foundation had offices in the Brown v. Board National Historic site when it opened in 2004. It vacated the premises in November 2011.

The report states the U.S. Attorney's Office has declined prosecution related to the investigation.

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