Two Government Watchdogs Come Together

March 18, 2016       Mark Hrywna      

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After 33 years, the Center for Effective Government (CEG) will be folded into the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). POGO is “committed to take on a number of things related to the work, mission and legacy” of CEG, Board Chair Dianne Stewart said. A new section of POGO’s website, titled “Effective Government,” will serve as a repository for CEG’s existing work and future endeavors. CEG also will transfer staff support it provided as co-chair of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards to the other co-chair, Public Citizen. “In considering how to best continue that strong and enduring work long into the future, and to build and strengthen the field, the center’s board examined the changing environment in which it operates,” Stewart said in an email on Friday. “The board concluded that the center’s mission would most effectively be served and powerfully sustained, and the greatest contributions to the field and the larger society made, in fuller collaborations with other organizations.” Two of CEG’s eight board members will join the 13-member POGO board. Most of the approximately 10 staff at CEG have found other employment, including one at POGO, according to Stewart. POGO has about 20 employees. CEG gave staff two months’ notice and the final day of staff operations was March 4. Longtime board member Mark Rosenman is administering the transition under the direction of Stewart. POGO is a nonpartisan, independent watchdog, championing good government reform for a “more effective, accountable, open and ethical federal government.” CEG was founded as OMB Watch by Gary D. Bass in 1983. He left in 2010 to become executive director of The Bauman Foundation and was succeeded by Katherine McFate. POGO was established in 1981. The two watchdog organizations are similar in size as far as revenues. CEG reported $2.1 million in total revenue in 2014, the most recent tax form available, and $1.6 million in assets. POGO reported $2.5 million in revenue and $2.4 million in net assets. POGO’ largest funders, according to GuideStar, were William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, $525,000; Foundation to Promote Open Society, $450,000, and The Omidyar Network, $250,000. In 2013, expenses for CEG outpaced revenue by more than $933,000. While that was part of the discussion, Stewart said it wasn’t the primary reason for the changes. “We knew we had prospects of funding into the future but it caused us to stop and think,” she said. “We could have continued on. This was a choice, not a funding-driven choice but based on the idea that it was important to consolidate and strengthen the field and that was our best way of serving the mission,” she said. OMB Watch changed its name and part of its mission in 2013. “For any organization going through a transformation, there’s a period of time you’re getting funders accustomed to. It was something we anticipated when we went through that change. Also, it coincided – which we didn’t necessarily anticipate – with changes in the priorities of major funders,” Stewart said. “In retrospect, these two changes were not conducive to the same level of funding we had,” she said, adding that the organization had a reserve fund at the end of the year that was larger than the operating deficit. The board began discussions about how to ensure the work and legacy accumulated over 33 years, can move into the future. “The board had to do some serious thinking about that,” Stewart said. With a reserve fund, CEG could have chosen to push forward on its work and fundraising around the new work, she said, “but we concluded that what was really called for was for us to take action to ensure the future of the organizational mission but also strengthen the field. The best way to accomplish that was to find partner organizations that shared values and priorities with us that we could fold our work into,” Stewart said. The board determined in the last quarter of 2015 that was the direction to go and began conversations with partners before concluding about a month ago to partner with POGO.