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NCMEC and things that make you want to go HMMMMMM

by Chris McElroy, President of the Kidsearch Network

Ok, if you read my blog articles, you see that the NCMEC comes up quite often. People email me and ask me questions about some of the posts because it seems outrageous, first that they get so many millions per year, and second that they aren't actually involved in the searches for missing children. Some find those things hard to believe and believe that maybe it is just some sour grapes on my part. Let me give you some facts you can check out for yourself then . . .

Mini disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are my own and the facts that back up my opinion are referenced for your convenience. The statements by Ernest Allen are pulled from his testimony to congress. Click here for the full document.

Myth The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have a search team that actually shows up when a child is missing or abducted to help police recruit volunteers and help conduct a search.

Fact NCMEC is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1984, and serves as the official national resource center and clearinghouse as mandated by the Missing Children’s Assistance Act. In the 1984 Act, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Justice to designate such a center.

Fact in 1999 Congress passed the Missing, Exploited and Runaway Protection Act of 1999, officially codifying, authorizing and mandating NCMEC in that role under law. The 1999 legislation was authored and sponsored by a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Mr. Castle of Delaware.

Fact NCMEC is charged with operating a national 24-hour toll-free telephone line for reporting information regarding missing children.

Fact In Ernie Allen's own words, "Our primary role is technical assistance for law enforcement, as it is a local police officer somewhere in America who is actually recovering the child."

Myth Again in Mr. Allen's words, "Working in concert with the Justice Department, NCMEC focuses on the most serious cases in which the child is at greatest risk. On cases meeting DOJ-approved criteria, we have worked with law enforcement on 89,599 cases, and played a role in the recovery of 73,351 children. Yet, most importantly, the recovery rate in those cases has climbed from 62% in 1990 to 93.9% today."

The fact on the above statement is that most cases that are in the database of the NCMEC website are "family or non-custodial abductions" where the child is at little or no risk. The next group that is listed there are "runaways". While we agree that runaways are possibly at risk due to their youth and being on the street, we disagree that these two groups which make up most of the database justify Mr. Allen to say "NCMEC focuses on the most serious cases in which the child is at greatest risk".

The next part he claims they have worked with law enforcement on 89,599 cases and played a role in the recovery of 73,351 cases. When a child is reported missing to the local police they enter it into the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). It is then automatically entered into the NCMEC database and website. If the police officers find the child 10 minutes later, then the NCMEC "has played a role in their recovery?" What role? The police would have found that child with or without an NCMEC

Fact NCMEC is now playing a key role in international child abduction cases as the State Department’s representative on in-coming cases under the Hague Convention. Since September 1995, we have handled 3,143 cases under the Hague Convention, resulting in the return of 2,211 children. We are also using the worldwide web to build a network to distribute images worldwide in partnership with INTERPOL. However, again, these are parental or non-custodial abductions for the most part. I would guess that the 11 in 2211 children recovered were possibly not parental or non-custodial abductions.

Fact According to Mr. Allen, "NCMEC has designed, written, edited and published many collaterals and publications for law enforcement, other child serving professionals, and the general public. Since 1984, NCMEC has disseminated 28,762,912 free publications." Again there is a "however", according to their IRS 990 form, they made $40,000 selling publications vs giving them away for free just in 2001. Considering that their revenue for that year was $32,386,780, and at the end of the year had a net of $12,385,095 that they did not spend, they could have just given the publications away for free. But I guess they needed to make up the more than $30,000 they lost due to investments, because it sure didn't make a dent in the $1,868,228 they spent on travel or the $646,683 on conferences, conventions, and meetings that year.

Myth until proven otherwise. ADVO, the Connecticut-based marketing company whose "Have You Seen Me? flyers" go into 85 million homes per week in the U.S.. This incredible company has been providing this service at no cost for eighteen years, and most importantly, 1 in every 7 of the children featured is recovered as a direct result of the ADVO card. I applaud ADVO for doing this at NO COST to the NCMEC. It is a great program. I just want proof of the 1 in 7 figure and since that is being told to congress and to the public when Ernest Allen talks about it to them. Show me specific cases where you can prove that figure and I will publicly admonish myself and apologize to Mr. Allen, the NCMEC, the public, and my readers.

Another Myth until proven wrong Mr. Allen again, "But there are many others. Six years ago, Wal-Mart became a strong supporter of this effort. Wal-Mart created its Missing Children’s Network, partnering with NCMEC to create bulletin boards with photos of missing children in all of their 3,000+ Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs. Eighty-four children are home safely today as a direct result of the Wal-Mart bulletin boards." Today they claim it's over 100 cases. Again, show me specific cases that prove that to be a fact, Mr. Allen.

Fact From transcripts of Mr. Allen speaking to congress, "We are not asking Congress for more money. In recent years, NCMEC has received a core appropriation to support its work under the Missing Children’s Act, an appropriation for the Jimmy Ryce Law Enforcement Training Center, an appropriation from Treasury/Postal Appropriations through the U.S. Secret Service primarily to address and support our efforts in the field of child sexual exploitation, and additional earmarks to support special programs like NetSmartz, LOCATER, School Resource Officer training, etc.

We are very grateful and enthusiastic about the action of the Congress in the PROTECT Act to raise NCMEC’s appropriations authorization ceiling. While such action will not necessarily increase the amount of appropriations NCMEC receives, it gives us the opportunity to consolidate some of the current separate appropriations and maintain and properly manage the current ongoing programs.

Where we do have some concern is in our ability to manage potential new challenges. For example, at this point we do not know how costly or complicated the national background screening pilot project will be that was approved in the PROTECT Act.

Thus, we ask the Subcommittee’s consideration for increases in the appropriations authorization ceiling for those years beyond 2005, the current end year for our authorization."

Did I miss something here? First paragraph, ""We are not asking Congress for more money". Now look at the last paragraph. Very smooth considering the financial facts I'll give you next.

But first, there is a real problem here that people sometimes fail to see. Our government is like anyone else. We want something done about missing children but we don't know exactly what to do so we throw money at it in hopes it will go away. It won't. And creating a "catch-all" bureaucracy for every missing child program or idea that comes along is not the answer. Let me give you an example. You get software that has like 100 different functions. It never works better than the software you have that only does one function. Same rule applies here. In order to continually increase it's funding each year, the NCMEC convinces our government they should just add each new program about missing children to the NCMEC rather than funding another organization who probably created the idea in the first place. Bigger government doesn't work and neither does a bigger NCMEC.

Fact The NCMEC claims to the public that 94 cents of every dollar goes into programs that help find missing children. Well, lets take a look at the figures from their 990 they file with the IRS for year 2002, the most recent one offered as far as I can find. But it's a good sample year.

Gross Revenue, $32,386,780, with $25,838,215 coming from tax dollars.
Management costs $466,114
Fundraising costs $880,448

Officers and Directors $543,438
Other salaries/wages $8,980,018
Pensions $510,637
Employee benefits $1,045,578
Payroll Taxes $691,971
Accounting $49,640 reasonable to find an accountant who can make this look like 94 cents of every dollar going into programs.
Legal Fees $163,080 I'd say necessary under the circumstances
Travel $1,868,228
Office $1,540,820
Conferences, Conventions, Meetings $646,683

Net Assets $23,820,725. They could almost last a year without new funding.

Ernest Allen CEO $222,117 and $14,622 in benefits
Michael Lynch CFO $154,678 and $10,345 in bennies
John Rabun Jr. $166,643 and $11,118 in benefits
Rick Minicucci CTO $137,692

There are others with nice salaries. They brought in another $31,146 SELLING child identification kits. It would seem they could give these away so that as many children have them as possible if they truly believe every child should have one. Kidsearch gives them away for free and we have a little smaller budget than they do, about $32,000,000 smaller than theirs.

They held an auction in Palm Beach, Florida. They took in $415,574. They only netted $249,560. Do you think they told the donors that 94 cents of every dollar goes to help find missing children? Do you think they mentioned spending almost a million dollars per year for fundraising? Do you think it's ok that they didn't?

NY Auction they held that year. $455,616 raised, $269,870 netted after expenses. Still wondering about the 94 cents thing?

Total for events like that in 2001, $1,823,933 raised because they told people they needed more money. $700,000 of that actually went to the NCMEC, then their "other" expenses and salaries and travel come out of that. So for anyone attending any of these events who may have been told that 94 cents of every dollar goes to help find missing children and gave just $1, then about 38 cents of that dollar ever went to the NCMEC and thats before they take out more expenses, salary, etc.

My point is that I challenge the notion that 94 cents of every dollar donated to the NCMEC goes to help find missing children and again I challenge any supporter of their's to dispute my findings with actual facts and figures.

Sun Microsystems is listed on the website as a SPONSOR, yet that year they made $879,284? Can I be a sponsor? please, please!

Viewpoint Software Development made $500,000

Those that want to verify these figures or get more of the picture Click here for the 990 in PDF format.

I'm not saying people don't need to be paid to do this. They do. I may not agree they need to be paid that much, but that's my opinion. Some will say they need to compete with for profit businesses for the best and the brightest. I think that is exactly what is wrong with the nonprofit sector in general. They hire CEOs, Lawyers, and accountants from the for profit sector and act more like a for profit than a nonprofit as a natural result of doing so. This destroys the mission in my opinion and creates a PR machine that is more concerned with the perception of doing something than they are about actually doing anything. We've seen it with the United Way and the Red Cross just to name a couple of similar entities.

From 1998-2001 NCMEC got $69,312,084 and according to Ernest Allen again, "Today more missing children are coming home safely than ever before. America is better prepared. There is a national network in place." yet there are a lot more missing children today than there was in 1998 or 1999 or 2000 or 2001 or 2002 and so on. So where is this huge impact the NCMEC claims to have made?

Fact In 2001 there were less than 250 missing children in the state of California. Today there are 266 unsolved cases. Last year in Florida, during August there were 132 unsolved missing child cases. Today there are 152. This is gathered from the NCMEC website, so I still ask where is the impact for that amount of tax dollars and donations spent?

For those at the NCMEC who would like to dispute my opinions here, bring it. I have a question. Why, with all that money coming in and all that travel being paid for, hasn't your staff, directors, or anyone from there, ever been to the house where the parents are missing a child right now? We have barely any budget and we've been there many times. We have "solved" cases that we were ACTUALLY there and involved in. I have an 18-year-old girl you can meet that will tell you how she was abducted by a two-time registered sex offender and we found her with absolutely zero help from the police or the NCMEC. There are more cases like that. We were THERE. What a concept! It works. All your statistics and impact studies and technical support and training can never equal showing up and helping the parents find their missing child.

We have proven that has real impact, yet you refuse to fund us, donate to us, or even acknowledge that we exist, while you buddy up to congress to make sure that ANY money that goes toward missing children gets swallowed up by your organization. Not only that, the LAW that created the NCMEC states that you are supposed to help fund organizations that help find missing children. We find missing children. Where is our help?

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