The fact that BSA has in the past, and is currently providing inaccurate membership figures to the public is nothing new to BSA's adult volunteers and paid professionals. Talk to any veteran Scouter and they'll probably be able to recount at least one tale of a "ghost" or "paper" unit. They'll also probably tell you that the council was well aware of the non-existence of both the unit and the youth supposedly registered in the unit.
To many outside of BSA they wonder why BSA would knowingly provide false membership figures and if so, why does it matter. After all, BSA is a private religious organization, so if they want to mislead the public on the number of youth they serve, who is harmed. One might argue only BSA and the devaluing of Scouting's principles are effected. However, the federal government seems to view the matter differently
Why is the federal government interested in the validity of a private religious organization's membership figures? The answer is simple. It has something to do with a criminal act called fraud.
BSA Councils not only receive donations from individuals, but solicit money from public organizations and foundations, like local United Way Chapters. In addition,
many councils apply for grant money from local, state and federal agencies. In all of these requests for money, the local BSA Councils stipulate the number of youth they serve and the number of youth who will be served through the funds they request and are granted. In many cases, the councils prepare reports to these funding organizations informing them of the number of youth they served with the grant money. If the local BSA Council does not tell the truth to these organizations and
agencies, then they are a committing a criminal act – fraud.
Some might think that the current case in Birmingham, AL is simply an isolated
case. The paid professional Scout Executives were simply being overzealous and did not realize that what they did was a criminal act. Notwithstanding violating the first Scout Law (A Scout is Trustworthy), if this was the first public case of such intentional fraud, one might be able to accept those rationalizations. However, BSA has a long and documented history of this sort of illegal and immoral activity. Actions that everyone can agree are definitely in violation of Scouting's principles.
Membership scandals for BSA Councils first went public in the
1920's. In the late 1950's, the paid professional Scout Executive of the Greater Cleveland Council was fired over its membership shenanigans. However, the first time BSA's dirty laundry was spotlighted by the national media was in 1974.
The Chicago Tribune conducted a four-month investigation into the Chicago Area Council's membership and published a 2-part series of their findings in June
1974. By the end of that year, many paid professionals had been fired from across the country, membership figures in at least 14 councils were revised after audits, federal money was returned, and the much vaunted 1968 initiative, Boypower '76, was terminated two years before its official deadline.
While it seems that membership padding has been around since BSA was formed, there were several reasons for the enormous scale paid professionals
were willing to defraud the public in the 1970's, and later. The first was Boypower '76.
Boypower '76 was the brainchild of Chief Scout Executive
Alden G. Barber (who had coincidentally been the Scout Executive in Chicago before assuming the top job). It was an effort to increase declining BSA membership which occurred during the turbulent 1960's. The objectives of Boypower '76 was to raise $65 million and increase registered youth members by 2 million, so that BSA would have one-third of all eligible boys as registered scouts. To accomplish these targets by 1976, Barber revamped BSA's paid professional
staff, so that it included more people with business and marketing backgrounds, rather than Scouting or youth-related experiences. Monthly, quarterly and annual goals were implemented and paid professionals were required to meet their goals in order to keep their job.
With such pressure coming from BSA National and given the non-Scouting background of many paid professionals, the temptation to lie to keep a job was
difficult to resist. As reported by many former paid professionals in the press, those who refused to lie about their numbers were fired.
It must be kept in mind that BSA National was aware of the fraud being perpetrated in the councils. Even with the fraudulent numbers, the goals set by Boypower '76, by 1974 it was two years behind schedule.
The other objective of Boypower '76 was money. What the Chicago Tribune
uncovered was that paid BSA professionals found a way to not only increase their membership numbers, but also increase income at the same time. One solution was the United States government.
In 1964, President Johnson declared a war on poverty in his State of the Union address. By 1966, Congress approved the Model Cities program. "Building upon long-established public housing and urban renewal efforts, Model Cities attempted
to integrate physical redevelopment of inner city neighborhoods with a wide range of social services and job opportunities." It went into effect in 1968.
The Chicago Council took advantage of this social program and obtained over $341,000 from the federal government for a period of four years to provide Scouting to over 40,000 inner-city minority boys. At least that is what was supposed to have happened.
Paid professionals admitted that they fraudulently registered thousands of nonexistent boys to not only meet their goals, but to obtain the federal funds. By October 1974, the Chicago Council had entered into an agreement with the federal government to repay those federal funds.
During their investigation, the Tribune located a 1968 audit, conducted by Storrs Smith, the Council Scout Executive who replaced Barber, which revealed that instead of the 75,000 registered youth the council claimed, there were actually less than 40,000 registered youth. This audit report was suppressed by both the council and National. National relived Smith as Council Scout Executive and placed him in National's Finance Service.
Another report never released to the public was conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs in 1971 on Scouting in the New York area. This report concluded that the pressure paid professionals felt from National to meet their goals resulted in a "numbers game and a possible cause of paper troops." So when the Tribune printed its story, BSA National had known for some time of the problems. Even
Barber went on record describing his paid professional staff, "Some of our people cheat–quite frankly." A sad thing to say about Scouting.
Once the story was published in June 1974, revelations about similar fraudulent
activities in other BSA Councils were published. Below are a few of those councils and the number of youth claimed were Scouts (if we know), but were not:
- Longhorn Council (Ft. Worth, TX) - 8,000 youth
- Indian National Council (Tulsa, OK) - 2,000 youth
- Golden Empire Council (Sacramento, CA) - 8,000 youth
- Chattahoochee Council (Columbus, GA) - 3,000 youth
- Calumet Council (Munster, IN) - 5,000 youth
- Bay Area Council (Galveston, TX) - 8,000 youth
- Chicago Area Council (Chicago, IL) - 40,000 youth
- Detroit Area Council (Detroit, MI)
- Chief Cornstalk Council (Logan, WV)
- Greater Alabama Council (Birmingham, AL)
- Andrew Jackson Council (Jackson, MS)
- Daniel Boone Council (Asheville, NC)
- Ouachita Valley Council (Monroe, LA)
- Cherokee Area Council (Chattanooga, TN)
By 1976, Barber had been forced to retire and the public had firm assurances
from BSA that such fraudulent activities, which the Tribune reported, would never happen again. BSA would put into practice procedures to not only make it more difficult to register phantom youth, but checks on registration rolls to alert BSA of any future misdeeds. Of course, all such checks and balances were to be done by BSA paid professionals. No independent organizations would oversee, much less conduct, such audits. Unfortunately, it didn't work, if it was ever was intended to
work in the first place.
For example, during the 1980's, BSA developed the Sustaining Membership Enrollment (SME) program to raise funds. As with Boypower '76, BSA's paid professionals were assigned goals. As Stewart Mayers of Athens, GA, who worked as a paid scouting professional in Arkansas and Oklahoma during the 1980's said, "The annual fund-raising drive . . . was openly referred to by scouting professionals as Save My Employment."
By 1991, most of the headlines BSA was grabbing were related to the 3G's. However, in Los Angeles the Council was being audited because a former paid professional alleged membership fraud in the council's inner-city outreach program. BSA National refused to allow an outside audit of the council's rolls and reported that the council had indeed inflated its rolls, but only by about 1,800 youth. Other
former paid professionals reported that the actual number was more like 16,000, from a total of 80,000. It should be noted that by 2000, the council reported about 41,000 registered youth.
Another former paid professional blew the whistle on another membership scandal in 1994 on the Andrew Jackson Council (Vicksburg, MS). Brian Paul Freese, "wrote in his resignation letter that he had been threatened with termination
for refusing to create fake units and pay their registration fees to national headquarters with diverted funds."
"Phil Gee, a Scout volunteer who was among those who blew the whistle on the alleged practices, said local and national Scout audits found 6,000 inactive Scouts on the rolls. The council's numbers were reduced from 14,000 to 8,000 after all the "ghosts" were purged, Mr. Gee said."
For the first time that we know of, an independent review of a Council's membership rolls (albeit a small section) was prepared in 1999. The University of North Florida conducted a study for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which provided funds to the Northeast Florida Council (Jacksonville, FL) to provide Scouting to youth in public housing projects (the report can be read here.). The Fund gave more
than $327,000, over an eight-year period, to the council for this project. Of the 600 scouts the council claimed, the study could only verify less than 100 and only 125 of the 285 adult volunteer leaders claimed.
After more than 25 years of public airing of BSA's fraudulent activities it should have come as no surprise to the Circle Ten Council (Dallas, TX), when federal agents raided their offices on the morning of 7 April 2000. This raid started a federal investigation into the Council's fraudulent membership reporting. The investigation resulted in the impanelling of a federal grand jury in 2003 to examine
the evidence and hear testimony from government witnesses. As of January 2005, that examination was yet to be concluded.
However, since the raid, the council has revised their membership rolls by -35%, or a reduction of 20,000 youth. The local United Way chapter, "which had steadily increased its contributions over 10 years based on Circle Ten's membership claims, has reduced donations" to the council each year, since 2000.
"In Atlanta, independent auditors are investigating claims the metro area´s Boy Scouts inflated black membership numbers to 20,000 to gain more donations. A civil rights leader contends there are no more than 500 blacks actively involved." For more information on this current scandal, click here.
At the end of 2004, we learned that the FBI was investigating the Greater Alabama Council (Birmingham, AL) for yet another fraudulent membership scheme.
We'll probably read about the council revising their membership numbers in the next couple of months. However, until a paid BSA professional is prosecuted for fraud, there will be no incentive to other paid professionals to just say no to BSA National's insistence on inflating membership figures. Until BSA allows outside and independent audits to be conducted of its membership rolls, the public will have no confidence in the membership figures printed in BSA's Annual Report to Congress