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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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March 30, 2005
By Dave Rice, 59 years in scouting

THE FIRST POINT OF THE SCOUT LAW: "A Scout is trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him. "

It seems that the paid executives of the Boy Scouts of America could learn a lesson from the Tenderfoot Scout requirements when it comes to honesty in keeping their membership records. At present at least three local
Scout councils are now under public investigation for falsifying their records of how many youth are actually receiving the benefits of the Scout program.

Fictitious youth members and Scout units are often used to justify grants from United Ways, government agencies, and from other public charitable foundations for programs to serve inner-city and less-chance youth.

The highest driving force for a paid executive's salary increase is the ability to recruit youth members and start new Scout units. Fake membership enrollment can also enhance the achievement records of paid executives, thereby increasing job security and professional advancement. This inability to grow one's council or district causes one to be looked down upon by peers and management.


Greater Alabama Council (Birmingham, Alabama): The FBI is investigating reports of fictitious "ghost " units to pump up membership numbers to trick donor groups and charities, including the United Way, into giving
more money. (Source: Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post, January 29, 2005) In any case, for 2004 the council showed a net loss of 21,320 youth, 30.6% of its membership. (Source: BSA National Membership/ Participation Report, December 2004, January 10, 2005)

Atlanta Area Council (Atlanta, Georgia): An independent audit is now being conducted by an outside law firm investigating claims the council inflated its black membership numbers to gain more funds. The allegation, made by Director Joseph H Beasley of the Atlanta Chapter of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, asserts that only 500 black youth are involved in Scouting, rather than the 20,000 claimed by the council. (Sources: Cynthia Post, Atlanta Daily World, November 29, 2004; Washington Post, December 16, 2004)

Gulf Ridge Council (Tampa Bay, Florida): Former registrar Rhonda Johnson could not find dozens of boys listed as members in the records she managed. She has since been fired. (Source: ABC Action News, March 2 3, 2005)


In 2000 the Circle Ten Council (Dallas, Texas) was taken before a federal grand jury for overstating its membership. When phantom youth were purged, 35% of its claimed membership was written off. The investigation is still continuing. (Source: Todd Bensman, Dallas Morning News, May 14, 2000-January 5, 2003)

In 1991 whistle-blowers in the Los Angeles Council claimed that there some 16,000 "phantom " youth registered. BSA National investigated and reported only 1800 phantom members. However, within ten years, the council's youth membership dropped to half of its 1991 levels. (Source: Anthony Millican and Stephen Braun, Los Angeles Times, March 29-July 14, 1991)

In 1974 in the Chicago Council nonexistent membership was being used to qualify for Model Cities grants under the federal War on Poverty. (In 1968 a suppressed internal audit had showed only 40,000 youth where 75,000 had been claimed.) (Source: David Young, Chicago Tribune, June 9-August 15, 1974)


Meeting membership goals is a prime measure of a council's and its paid executive staff's effectiveness. There are many techniques used by the BSA and its 309 local councils and their paid executive staff to bring
about membership gains. It is the professionals who have this pressure, and the volunteers are the key to keeping them honest.

The basis of membership accounting is the annual Scout unit's (Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, Venturer Crew, or Sea Scout ship) charter application, which includes a list of youth members. Throughout the year
additional youth are registered as their applications are turned in.

The original paperwork is kept in 309 local council offices around the country. The information on the charter application and additional enrollments is transmitted electronically to the National Council Office in Irving, Texas, which compiles the records of names and numbers. Since the National BSA does not see the original paperwork it is not in a position to spot fraudulent entries unless a membership audit is ordered.


Paid executives generally enter the BSA professional staff with high ideals and a desire to serve. Some, however, succumb to the pressure to achieve their membership goals and start using fraudulent methods to do
so, by registering nonexistent units, by adding fake names to the rolls of exiting units, or by re-registering units that have ceased to exist.

Many who fund the BSA, including United Ways and foundations are particularly concerned with how many members are being served from among the inner-city and less-chance youth. This creates a financial need for
membership growth to report to these funders.

Transferred employees who find fraudulent units in their new assignments are under pressure to keep their membership figures high. They can find their achievements downgraded by reporting fake units and dropping them, showing a decline in membership, or by creating a membership "hole " it is hard to climb out of.

Generally, local council paid executives can be found in four categories:

  1. Those who absolutely will not condone fraudulent membership. (There must be many of these, since the BSA has shown a decline in membership for the past five years.)
  2. Those who are unaware of fraudulent registration by those under them. (Possible, but unlikely.)
  3. Those who urge no dropped units and membership growth, but don 't ask or want to know the details about how they were obtained.
  4. Those who are actively involved in creating fraudulent units and membership.

District executives, in charge of a part of a local council, can easily spot fraudulent units and inflated membership within their district, and can report them. However, if they are having difficulty achieving growth,
the pressure is to keep the fake units and add members to them.


All youth who have been in a Scout unit during a year are counted as registered members until the end of the charter year, even if they have dropped out or moved. This means that a unit's membership is at its highest in the month that it renews its charter, and at its lowest the next month.

Many local councils have moved all Scout unit charter renewals to December. This makes the council's December membership figures as large as possible, with typically the lowest number of members in January.


A creative way to add "ghost " members is to add false additional members to existing Scout units in November and December, after the unit has started its charter renewal. These youth are counted in the council's December membership, the year-end figures used to prove the council's growth and to justify funding. Then when the unit turns in its charter application with its real members, these "ghost " members just disappear, after having been counted only for inflated year-end figures.

Many councils have a "no-dropped-unit " policy, ostensibly meaning that units will receive council service to bring about their longevity. It means that local paid executives are under great pressure to reregister units that have ceased to meet or which never existed, thereby increasing council's membership figures.

HOW THE BSA CAN ELIMINATE FRAUDULENT MEMBERSHIP (If they 're really serious about it)

Policies: Publish a memo on the integrity of registration procedures, which includes the consequences (reprimand, downward transfer, demotion, or firing) for violations by BSA employees.

Amnesty: When nonexistent units or youth are found and dropped during the first six months of a Scout executive's or a district executive's tenure, the basis for determining that person's membership growth shall be the corrected figure and not the figure at the end of the previous paid executive's tenure. (This is so the new Scout executive or district executive is not faced with an unrealistically high goal for his first year. Otherwise, the new paid executive who finds and reports fraudulent registration will be punished for reporting and dropping the fraudulent units or members.)

Audits: Require audits of Scout units whenever there is a change of Scout executives or of district executives, and at regular intervals during their tenure.

Audits may be requested by an employee, the council executive board, volunteer Scout leaders, or by a regional directive.

Audits should be conducted by contracted outside sources, or by a committee of volunteer Scout leaders. They should not be guided by paid executives. They should have unlimited access to all original (paper) charter applications as well as print-outs of current unit members.

Audits should find out whether units really exist and are meeting and holding activities. They must include contacting all questionable units reported as well as a sampling of all other units. Audits should include contacting chartered organizations, and a sampling of Scout unit committee members, unit leaders, and parents of registered youth.

Whistle-blower protection:

Have a person appointed to receive and review all claims of fraudulent membership.

Have policies in place to prevent retaliation, downward transfers, demotion, or dismissal of paid executives or of volunteer leaders who report fraudulent membership.

Charter renewals: Require Scout unit registrations to months other than December. (This is so that district or council registration does not consist solely of the high figures at the end of unit's charter year.)

Insist that a unit charter review meeting, with chartered organization, unit committee and unit leaders present, be held in every re-registering unit. This is usually led by a Scout commissioner or other volunteer.


Does your council require that all Scout unit charters be renewed in December, or throughout the year in other months? What is the effect of this policy on your council's membership?

Figures for some years have been "restated to show the effects of local council membership audits. " Who orders membership audits? Who conducts membership audits: local council professional staff, local volunteer
Scouters, regional or national Scout leadership, or an outside accounting firm? When was the last membership audit in your council? How many local councils have had membership audits in the last five or ten years? What has been revealed in those audits? Does the local council make available the complete report of any membership audits to the public?

Has your council ever found it had "paper, " "phantom, " or "ghost " Scout units; that is, registered Scout units that never existed or had ceased to exist in previous years, or simply were not presently meeting? How did that come about? What was done to correct the records? Who was held responsible?

If a corporation were to experience losses in sales, similar to the BSA's losses in membership, what do you think any responsible executive board member should ask the corporation's management? What has been the reaction of the national executive board or your local council executive board to losses in membership? What has been or is now being planned to reverse membership losses?

To what do you attribute the losses in membership? Are there demographic population groups who now believe that Scouting has become irrelevant? Has the BSA written them off or does it plan changes to appeal to those groups? Has Scouting become a movement for religious conservatives only?

To what extent has the BSA rejected the beliefs of certain religious groups, particularly about homosexuality? To what extent are certain liberal denominations dropping their Scout units over disagreement with the BSA policy on gays? Which religious congregations have been told they cannot have Scout units for this reason? How does the BSA reconcile its rejection of certain religious beliefs with its Declaration of Religious Principle, which states that the BSA is absolutely non-sectarian, and leaves the teaching of religion to the parents and their religious leaders?

While traditional Scouting is dwindling, Learning for Life (a wholly-owned BSA subsidiary, with mostly school-based programs) is growing. Is this in any way connected with the BSA practice of excluding gays from traditional Scouting, while Learning for Life does not discriminate based on sexual orientation? (LFL lets the local sponsors select their leaders without reference to sexual orientation.)


When Learning for Life was established as the BSA's wholly-owned subsidiary, operating mainly in schools, it gave the BSA an opportunity to count LFL participants in its membership figures. Until LFL was started, only members in the BSA's traditional programs, Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Venturing, Exploring, and Sea Scouting could be counted. As the vast majority of LFL participants are simply students who are involved in an in-school curriculum-based program, the BSA has never considered them to be "members, " and they should not be counted as such.




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We are an education and advocacy organization reaching out to gay and nontheist youth and adults in our effort to get the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its exlusionary policy.

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