Citizen-Soldier Program Gets Scathing Internal Review

With $7.5 million spent on a pilot program run by the University to provide the families of deployed National Guard and military reserve personnel with support services similar to those offered to families of regular military, the results are meager, the efforts are entangled in red tape, and relations with the military are far less than satisfactory.

That is according to the report of an internal review ordered by Tony Waldrop ’74, vice chancellor for research and economic development, four and a half years after the start of the program known as the Citizen-Soldier Initiative.

Backed by North Carolina’s congressional delegation, chiefly Rep. David Price ’61, the program sought to provide many of the family support benefits regular military families have by virtue of their proximity to military bases. Guard and reserve personnel are dispersed across the state – in 37 units in 92 communities at the time the program started in the summer of 2004. The program was designed to work with existing Defense Department programs by bringing employers, schools, child-care providers, health professionals and faith-based organizations into a network of family support.

Price, of Chapel Hill, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, wrote the initiative into legislation and secured the funding. The program was intended to serve as a national model.

Price said that the program is worthy of federal funding and that he still supports its goals.

In July 2008, Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte received an anonymous letter complaining that the program was providing none of the intended benefits and was mired in a bureaucratic morass that spent most of its time trying to ensure that its federal funding would be continued. Myrick forwarded the letter to Erskine Bowles ’67, president of the UNC System.

The resulting report stated that “in its first several years, the CSSP has struggled to overcome challenges related in part to its ambitious and ill-defined mission and to a complex and challenging operating environment.” It cited funding delays, leadership turnover and changes in objectives in the first three years.

The report also said that at some point the N.C. National Guard had lost patience with the progress of the program.

It said that the program’s original director, Dennis Orthner, a UNC professor of social work, said “the program’s community-liaison model did not function as expected” – specifically that it didn’t work through the existing military structure.

Among other findings, the report:

  • “Found one case in which a staff member was paid approximately twice what other UNC employees would typically receive for similar work, and several other cases in which salaries were substantially higher than those for comparable employees on campus.”
  • Found concern about “heavy, long-term reliance on contractors and consultants.”
  • And discovered employees performing at lower levels than expected.

The program, the report said, “has struggled with the disadvantages of being part of a public university – the red tape of state regulations and university policies – but has not enjoyed the advantages of this association because it has failed to make good use of university expertise.” It concluded that CSSP “will have to make some rather profound changes in the way it operates.”

In an interview, Waldrop said the program was not without accomplishments. He said it had trained 1,600 health care providers to work with returning guardsmen, had developed a database of some 30,000 health care providers, and had worked with existing community groups such as churches, mental health providers and legal aid agencies to provide assistance to families and returning soldiers.

Waldrop said he thought the report was a fair assessment of the program.

He said that CSSP has about $2.1 million left and that it would work diligently to spend that money responsibly. Funding is expected to expire Dec. 31, and the program has asked for another year to spend the remaining money.

Among the recommendations in the report were to simplify the organization under a single full-time director based on the UNC campus and to try to regain the support and confidence of the National Guard.

CSSP is now directed by Emmanuel Leousis, deputy director of UNC’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.

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