DENVER — More than 27 months since it was greenlighted by Congress, the panel established to investigate the inner workings of the U.S. Olympic structure has yet to conduct a formal interview because of bureaucratic red tape and slow action from the same lawmakers who had expressed a pressing need for better oversight.
Two Olympics — the Summer Games in Tokyo and Winter Games in Beijing — have come and gone since the Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics was signed into law and charged with looking into, among other topics, the handling of sex-abuse cases that were mismanaged for decades.
It took 19 months after it was established by the new law in October 2020 for the commission to be able to access the $2 million Congress budgeted for its use, then four more months for the government to post the job, and four months after that to identify and hire the panel’s executive director. Now that the money is available and the leader is in place, budgeting laws dictate that the commission has to decide how to spend the $2 million by Sept. 30 or risk not being able to use it.
Executive director Kevin Brown – who, to this date, is the panel’s only paid employee – says it’s an unrealistic timeline. He said emails and phone calls explaining the issue to lawmakers and their staffs have not led to much discussion, let alone an extension. Brown’s group plans on conducting dozens of interviews and gathering thousands of pages of documents. It must hold at least one public hearing and write a report to detail its findings. He anticipates the project will take around a year.
“The bottom line is, through no fault of its own, the commission has struggled to get underway, and now that we are moving forward with our work, our ability to do it meaningfully is being taken away from us,” Brown told The Associated Press.
The commission was created as part of the bipartisan “Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020,” which itself came out of an 18-month investigation into how the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the sports organizations it oversees mishandled sex-abuse cases in gymnastics and other sports.
The law called on the USOPC to more than double funding for the newly created U.S. Center for SafeSport from $7.5 million to $20 million. One of its most extreme measures gives Congress the power to dissolve the USOPC board.
The original draft of the bill did not include plans for a commission, but Rep. Diane DeGette, D-Colo., was among those who pushed to have that included in the final version.
Representatives from DeGette’s office did not immediately return an email from the AP requesting comment. Neither did representatives from the offices of Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., or Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., all of whom played key roles in getting the bill passed.
“For the past few years, we have been determined to change (the) pattern of gross institutional failure,” Blumenthal and Moran wrote in an op-ed piece, which detailed the pressing need for reform and better oversight when they introduced the bill in 2019.
The bill took 15 months to become law from the date of the op-ed. All 16 members of the commission have been in place since April 2021. Included are gymnastics abuse survivor Jordyn Wieber, track great Edwin Moses and University of Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens.
But the commission couldn’t access funding until May 2022, as the appropriation was held up while Congress haggled over larger issues in spending bills. Meanwhile, it took the General Services Administration, which oversees the commission, until September 2022 to post the executive director’s position. Now that Brown has been on board for about three weeks, he needs to hire five to seven more staffers to help conduct what is expected to be a wide-ranging investigation. They are not expected to be fully on board until the end of April.
The USOPC, meanwhile, has moved forward with its own reforms in the wake of the investigations and the new law, including increasing oversight over its satellite sports organizations and calling for more athlete representation in the dozens of decision-making bodies that dot the Olympic landscape.
There remain issues, however, including how well the SafeSport Center is conducting investigations involving sexual misconduct, even with its increased budget. The recent case involving snowboard coach Peter Foley triggered questions about whether the center, the USOPC and U.S. Ski & Snowboard have handled the case appropriately.
The congressionally mandated commission is likely to look into that case and many others and could suggest more changes to the overall Olympic structure.
Brown says he’s not asking lawmakers for more money, only for a longer window in which to use funds that already have been appropriated.
“The community as a whole is serious about making sure the American public understands the modern Olympic and Paralympic movement, and that, if necessary, we can drive positive change,” Brown said. “But the commission has to be fair and credible to all involved, and to do so, we have to get the complete picture, and that takes time that we aren’t being given.”