|OJP manages the majority of the Department’s grant programs and is responsible for developing initiatives to address crime at the state and local level. OJP is composed of 5 bureaus – Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) – as well as the Community Capacity Development Office and the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking Office.|
The OIG released an audit report and an investigative report examining how the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awarded more than $113 million in discretionary grants in FY 2007 and reviewing allegations that former OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores improperly awarded grants to certain non-profit or faith-based organizations. In addition, the OIG investigative report examined allegations that Flores violated federal ethics and contracting regulations in awarding certain grants and contracts while at OJJDP.
Our review determined that OJJDP was not prepared to handle the $113 million in funding that Congress appropriated in FY 2007 for discretionary grants. Because the Department’s FY 2007 appropriation was passed well after the fiscal year began, both OJP and OJJDP struggled to allocate funding between new and ongoing programs, announce new grant initiatives, review and score a large number of applications, and document award decisions and final selections all on an expedited timeframe.
Former OJP Assistant Attorney General Regina Schofield allocated $74 million of the $113 million for noncompetitive grants or “invitational awards” to 17 organizations, many of whom received earmarks in the past. Schofield said she used invitational awards to ensure that continuing and deserving programs would receive funds. However, OJP could not provide any documents showing that it made merit-based assessments for these invitational grants. Schofield also said that officials from the Office of the Attorney General, White House, and Congress lobbied her to award non-competitive awards to certain organizations.
With respect to the $40 million in competitive awards, we found that time constraints adversely affected both the solicitation process and the peer review process OJJDP used to rate applicants for competitive awards. We also found that although Flores stated that he considered peer review scores in evaluating the proposals, he said he did not use peer review scores as the sole basis when selecting applicants for grant awards. For example, Flores said he also considered Presidential priorities for faith-based and community initiatives when making his award recommendations. Our audit found that Flores recommended awards to several organizations, including the World Golf Foundation, the Best Friends Foundation, and Victory Outreach, whose proposals received peer review scores that were lower than applications submitted by other organizations that did not receive award recommendations. Flores’s award recommendations subsequently were approved by Schofield. We concluded that OJP and OJJDP decision makers should have justified and documented the rationale for award recommendations that deviated significantly from peer review results.
In addition, OIG investigators determined that Flores accepted a round of golf valued at $159 from World Golf officials while attending a conference sponsored by World Golf in February 2006, and that World Golf’s First Tee Initiative was an OJJDP grantee at the time, having received earmarked grants from FY 2003 to FY 2006. In FY 2007, Flores recommended World Golf for an OJJDP discretionary grant award, but he did not reimburse World Golf for the round of golf until more than 2 years later – the day before he testified before a congressional oversight committee about OJJDP’s FY 2007 grants. We concluded that Flores violated the federal ethics regulations by accepting in February 2006 and not repaying for 2 years a gift from a prohibited source valued at more than $20.
In addition, Flores circumvented federal acquisition regulations by hiring a consultant through a non-competitive contract rather than through the competitive hiring process required by federal civil service laws. The consultant, who was paid about $281,000 over a 2-and-a-half year period, failed to adequately document the services that he provided pursuant to the contract.
The OIG made 10 recommendations to assist OJP and OJJDP in improving how they administer grant programs. OJP and OJJDP agreed with the recommendations.
At the request of Congress, the OIG examined competitive and non-competitive NIJ grants and contracts awarded during a 3-year period to evaluate whether they were awarded based on fair and open processes. During FYs 2005 through 2007, the NIJ awarded over $567 million in grants and cooperative agreements and over $64 million in contracts.
For the grant awards tested, the OIG found the NIJ did not maintain adequate records to document that its grant award process ensured fair and open competition. The OIG also found that the NIJ’s process for reviewing grant applications – including initial program office reviews, peer reviews, documentation of program office recommendations, and documentation of NIJ Director selections – raised concerns about the fairness and openness of the competition process. The NIJ generally did not document the basis for non-competitively awarding discretionary grant funds.
In addition, the OIG review found that several NIJ staff involved in the grant award process had potential conflicts of interest with grantees receiving awards, but nevertheless participated in the approval process for the grants in question.
The OIG also found two instances where the NIJ improperly directed a grantee to use a specific organization to perform sub-grantee work without documenting the basis for directing that the work be non-competitively awarded. On two separate occasions, the NIJ awarded approximately $5 million without competition to the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) without preparing justifications for the sole-source award and supplements. In both of those instances the NIJ directed that the NFSTC hire a specific sub-grantee to perform work under the agreement without documenting the rational for this sole source sub-award. In response to the audit, the NIJ stated that it will begin requiring that the basis for any action requiring grantees to use specific sub-grantees to perform work related to the grants must be documented.
The OIG made nine recommendations to help improve the NIJ’s grant and contract award processes and to ensure that grant and contract awards are based on fair and open competition or adequately justified when making the awards on a non-competitive basis. OJP agreed and has begun taking corrective actions to address recommendations.
During this reporting period, the OIG continued to conduct audits of grants awarded by OJP. Examples of findings from these audits included the following:
- Between April 2000 and December 2007, the NIJ awarded the (NFSTC) in Largo, Florida, approximately $44.7 million in seven cooperative agreements to expand the range and scope of services the NFSTC could offer to forensic laboratories. Of this total, $20.9 million was from congressional earmarks specifically for the NFSTC. Our audit found that NFSTC generally complied with the agreement objectives we tested. However, we found that the NFSTC: 1) did not report its progress on four of its objectives; 2) did not maintain adequate support for its drawdowns; 3) did not account for expenditures by individual award; 4) drew down $229,229 in funds for unallowable indirect costs; 5) charged unallowable and unsupported costs totaling $11,712; and 6) charged $11,395 in unreasonable costs. The NIJ concurred with all eight of our recommendations.
- As of December 31, 2008, OJP awarded more than $1.8 million to TechMission, Inc., a non-profit organization in Boston, Massachusetts, that aims to protect children in at-risk communities from pornography and other dangers online and to support technology-based programs for at-risk youth during after-school hours. We found that TechMission: 1) inappropriately charged budgeted indirect cost expenses as direct costs, 2) failed to obtain appropriate OJP approval before reprogramming grant funds, 3) mischaracterized certain costs in its grant budgets, and 4) failed to submit all grant-funded products to OJP for review and approval before public distribution. OJP agreed with our findings and coordinated with TechMission to rectify the problems we identified.
- As of December 17, 2008, OJP awarded more than $2.2 million in Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI) funding to Santa Clara County, California. Our audit found that Santa Clara County claimed and was reimbursed $323,859 for cases that were ineligible under SWBPI guidelines. OJP agreed with our findings and will coordinate with Santa Clara County to remedy the $323,859 in questioned costs.
- Between October 2001 and September 2007, OJP awarded more than $190,000 in SWBPI funding to Alameda County, California. Our audit found that Alameda County claimed and was reimbursed for cases that were ineligible under the SWBPI guidelines. Specifically, we identified $8,451 in questioned costs and weaknesses in Alameda’s management controls over records retention and reimbursement requests. OJP agreed with our findings and is working with Alameda County on further corrective actions to remedy the $8,451 in questioned costs and operational deficiencies.
- As of August 31, 2008, OJP awarded more than $940,000 to the Kane County, Illinois, Drug Rehabilitation Court (KCDRC). We found that KCDRC charged the grant $4,812 for unapproved and unallowable costs. KCDRC also failed to record two vehicles as federally funded properties. OJP agreed with our findings and is coordinating with KCDRC to remedy the questioned costs charged to the grant.
During this reporting period, the OIG received 23 complaints involving OJP. The most common allegation made against OJP employees, contractors, or grantees was grantee fraud. The OIG opened nine cases and referred several complaints to OJP for its review and appropriate action.
At the close of the reporting period, the OIG had 29 open criminal or administrative investigations of alleged misconduct related to OJP employees, contractors, or grantees. The majority of these criminal investigations were grantee fraud. The following are examples of cases involving OJP that the OIG’s Investigations Division handled during this reporting period:
- An audit and subsequent investigation by the OIG’s Chicago Regional Audit Office and Chicago Field Office led to the National Training and Information Center (NTIC) agreeing to pay the United States $550,000 to settle a case under the civil False Claims Act. NTIC, a non-profit corporation in Chicago, Illinois, received a BJA grant to fund Community Justice Empowerment Projects in specific communities. The OIG determined that NTIC misused $207,131 in grant funds over a 3-year period by paying for employees and sub-grantees to travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for future grant funds. Terms of the grant specifically prohibited the use of grant funds to pay for lobbying expenses. In a previous criminal case arising out of these allegations, the executive director of NTIC pled guilty to theft of federal program funds and was sentenced to 5 months’ incarceration.
- An investigation by the OIG’s Fraud Detection Office led to the arrest of two staff accountants and a public relations associate employed by the National Children’s Alliance, a non-profit organization that assists victims of child abuse, on charges of theft of grant funds. OIG investigators determined that the staff accountants stole approximately $15,000 and $10,000 respectively, and the public relations associate stole approximately $12,000 in OJP grant funds by giving themselves additional paychecks. The employees were ordered to pay restitution. In addition, one of the employees was placed on 6 months’ probation while another employee received a 6-month suspended sentence, with one weekend in confinement.
- A joint investigation by the OIG’s Fraud Detection Office and the FBI led to the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) agreeing to pay $200,000 to settle allegations of civil false claims in connection with an OJP grant program. The investigation determined that NEMLEC, a non-profit consortium of 49 Boston-area police departments, did not properly account for several hundred thousand dollars in grant funds and used some of the grant funds for programs other than the School Threat Assessment and Response System, for which the grant was awarded. Investigators reported that it did not appear that NEMLEC used grant funds for purposes other than law enforcement equipment and training.
Management and Oversight of OJP’s Prisoner Re-entry Initiatives
The OIG is assessing the adequacy of OJP’s design and management of its prisoner re-entry initiative grant programs, including the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative. We are examining whether grantees have administered grants in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, guidelines, and terms and conditions of the grant awards. In addition, we are evaluating OJP’s efforts to reduce recidivism among high-risk violent offenders who have participated in prisoner re-entry initiatives.
Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative
Administered by OJP, SWBPI reimburses eligible jurisdictions in the four southwest border-states for costs associated with the prosecution of criminal cases either declined or referred by local USAOs. The OIG is summarizing the results of our previous SWBPI audits conducted at the request of the USAO for the Northern District of California, and we are reviewing the effectiveness of OJP’s administration and oversight of SWBPI reimbursements.