A former assistant attorney general says the head of the nation’s juvenile justice agency misled her into approving millions of dollars in grants to organizations that he favored.
Regina Schofield said Thursday that J. Robert Flores, administrator of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), “misrepresented the rating scores” of bidders for the National Juvenile Justice Programs last year, hiding the fact that most of his choices received lower scores than many of the proposals that he rejected.
Schofield’s statement on Thursday could undercut a defense that Flores has given as a congressional committee investigates his agency’s grant making: that Schofield approved the grants.
Flores declined to comment about the allegation by Schofield, whose Office of Justice Programs oversaw the OJJDP. Flores has previously said that he followed proper procedures in awarding the grants. On May 2 he traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss the investigation with members and/or staffers of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, according to people familiar with the committee’s investigation.
At issue is a memo that Flores wrote to Schofield last July, in which he explained how he chose 10 winning proposals from among more than 100 bids for the National Programs grants. The memo repeatedly uses the phrase “highest scoring” to describe his choices, even though those choices ranked behind the top bids as scored by the OJJDP staff, and in some cases below dozens of proposals that didn’t get funded.
Here’s what explains the discrepancy: After the agency invited bids for the funds through a Request for Proposals, Flores created new criteria and categories for the grants. The incoming bids were assigned to those new categories.
Out of the 10 winning bids, eight were the only bids assigned to certain categories – and therefore were the highest-scoring bids in those categories. (For a detailed explanation, see “A Friend at Justice.”)
For example: Under a criterion called “School-based outreach efforts directed at preventing high-risk activity (out-of-wedlock pregnancy),” Flores’ memo says the application of the nonprofit Best Friends Foundation “has the highest score that met the criteria.” The memo does not say, as other OJJDP documents show, that Best Friends was the only qualified bidder in that category, or that among all the bidders, it ranked 51st.
Another criterion was “mentoring outreach efforts directed at Latino at-risk youth.” The memo names three winning bids, saying they scored the highest, second-highest and third-highest among bids “that met the criteria.” The memo does not say, as other OJJDP documents show, that those were the only three qualified bids under that criterion, or that overall, those three applications ranked 24th, 41st and 42nd.
Schofield recently said she didn’t know that when she signed off on Flores’ recommendations last year.
Schofield said via e-mail Thursday that her staff at the Office of Justice Programs “spent months working on a transparent process” for awarding discretionary grants, “and Flores’ memo was not true to the process agreed upon by the leadership of U.S. DOJ [Department of Justice] and misrepresented the rating scores of the recommended grantees.”
Another point of contention is Flores’ statement in his memo that all the grants were chosen “from the top 20%.” Most of the winners did not rank in the top one-fifth of the bidders.
OJJDP did not respond to a request to explain that discrepancy. It appears that Flores might have used the phrase to mean that his chosen bids scored within the top 20 percentage points of the scoring range – that is, from 80 percent to 100 percent.
Schofield, now director of public policy at Casey Family Programs, said she’s never heard “top 20 percent” used that way.
Time appears to have been a factor in how the grants were awarded. Because of a temporary suspension in congressional earmarks under OJJDP, fiscal 2007 was the first time in years that the agency had significant amounts of grant money available for competitive bidding. Many Justice Department grants were awarded under heavy deadline pressure and efforts by various administrators to award discretionary money to favored organizations.
Schofield’s statement noted that “because of the unique budget cycle in FY 2007, we were under an intense deadline to get grants processed and awarded.”