A recent audit conducted by the office of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor reports that Gail Dignam, former chief of the Louisiana Governor’s Program on Abstinence (GPA), improperly managed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, awarding her own organization state contracts and directing thousands of tax-payer dollars to her son.[i]
Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed Dignam as director of GPA in 2004 and she remained in the position through 2007. During her tenure she was responsible for awarding almost $3.6 million dollars in professional service contracts. According to the audit, six state contracts totaling $115,179 were given to the Friends 4 Teens Foundation (F4T), an organization which she founded in 2003, and the affiliated Friends 4 Teens Activity Center. In addition, checks issued from a F4T bank account were written to Dignam’s son, David Cox, for a total amount of $42,925. [ii] According to the audit, Dignam violated state law by using her position to receive public funds for herself and for a member of her immediate family.[iii]
The auditor also concluded that GPA lacks adequate monitoring of contracts. In Fiscal Year 2007 the program received almost $1.3 million in federal funding and awarded 74 service contracts. The audit report determined that there was insufficient staff monitoring the contracts and that activity reports submitted by contractors were inadequate for tracking performance.[iv]
The recent audit report is the latest charge of corruption issued against Louisiana’s abstinence program. GPA is the only Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program in any state that is managed by the government’s executive branch. Moreover, the program does not sub-grant the funds to community entities (as most other participating states do), but instead administers the program itself with the help of service contractors.
In 2002, the ACLU filed suit against the GPA claiming that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state by using federal and state abstinence-only-until-marriage funds to convey religious messages and advance religion. Later that year, the two parties reached a settlement. Nonetheless, much of the information that the ACLU pointed to in its 2004 complaint remained on the GPA website for many years. In fact, as late as June 2008, on the “Ask the Experts” webpage, there were no less than nine references to God from “experts.” [v] Currently, the website is under construction and the webpage cannot be accessed.
Current Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration plans to revamp the program. Natalie Robottom, director of the Office of Community Programs says the program will be renamed, and that it will “move toward a more comprehensive approach” in teaching abstinence by also discussing “integrity, leadership and character.” Furthermore, the program will rely more on volunteers than service contracts. Plans to revamp the program seem to coincide with the expiration of the federal Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program and the Obama administration’s push to provide funding for evidenced-based intervention programs. The Title V program expired on June 30, 2009 and was not reauthorized by the House of Representatives in its Fiscal Year 2010 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (FY10 Labor-HHS) appropriations bill.
[i] “Audit: Abstinence Program Steered Money to Director’s Company,” Associated Press, The Daily Advertiser, 21 July 2009, accessed August 7, 2009, <http://www.theadvertiser.com/article/20090721/NEWS01/90721019/1002>.
[ii] “Louisiana’s Abstinence Office Did Not Abstain From Corruption,” The Times-Picayune, 26 July 2009, accessed August 7, 2009, <http://blog.nola.com/editorials/2009/07/louisianas_abstinence_office_d.html>.
[iv] “Louisiana’s Abstinence Office Did Not Abstain From Corruption.”