Operation Breakthrough putting house in order

jwise@newsobserver.comSeptember 15, 2013 

James Tabron


Durham’s nonprofit Operation Breakthrough has started putting its house in order after a state review found 19 rule and policy violations over two years of its operations.

“We were eager,” said executive director James Tabron, who took over the 49-year-old agency just weeks before the state Office of Economic Opportunity issued its report July 2.

State analysts making a periodic “compliance monitoring visit” in March discovered missing personnel records, improper board procedures, unverified client eligibility records and services provided to ineligible clients, among other violations, during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years.

Operation Breakthrough operates a job-training program, a weatherization program and Durham locations for the Head Start pre-kindergarten program .

Violations the state uncovered threatened the agency’s public funding which, in 2011, accounted for $6.59 million of its $6.68 million total revenue, according to Operation Breakthrough’s federal tax return.

According to a response the agency turned into the state OEO, it has instituted, among other measures:

•  Monitoring clients’ records on a regular basis by both state and its own personnel;

•  Requiring several officials’ approval for spending requests;

•  Requiring board approval for expenditures of more than $10,000;

•  A dedicated database for producing OEO reports;

•  Weekly reports on all financial transactions;

•  Employee training on what the rules are and how to follow them.

Those basic practices are intended to correct what Breakthrough board Chairman Michael Page said had been “some years of poor management,” and Tabron called “a lack of attentiveness” and “failure to follow through .. with taking corrective actions when problems were identified.”

Operation Breakthrough had also gone through several years of rapid employee turnover. None of the administrators currently listed on the agency's website ( www.obtnc.com) appear on the 2010-11 IRS report, the most recent available.

“It is just incumbent upon us to be ... better about checking ourselves,” Tabron said, and he was glad to have had the state’s perspective on how the agency was performing, or not.

“Even,” he said, “if we don’t like the news.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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