As part of Youth Today's ongoing coverage of grant-making abnormalities at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), associate editor John Kelly and I will be posting live updates from the June 18th House Oversight and Government Reform hearing, during which J. Robert Flores, administrator, will respond to questions about how the office distributed funds in 2007. (Cross posted here.)
The chief of staff for OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to speak to House investigators about the grant making process at the agency, according to a congressional memo released this morning.
Michele DeKonty "refused to speak" to the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform, "citing her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination," says a memo from the committee, which is holding a hearing this morning on OJJDP's grant-making.
The memo, which summarizes the committee's investigation, also says:
* A career official at OJJDP told staffers even before they began reviewing the grant applications that he was "certain we are funding" the World Golf Foundation, because DeKonty "has said as much."
In his opening statement, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, said Flores directed his staff to help the group with its proposal, and in 2006 traveled to Florida to visit the foundation and play golf.
* Flores directed one of the fiscal 2007 National Juvenile Justice Program grants to an organization linked to former White House official Lisa Cummins. The $1.2 million grant went to Urban Strategies LLC, a consulting firm, and Victory Outreach Special Services. Cummins, who worked in the White House Office for Faith Based Initiatives, is president of Urban Strategies, the memo says.
* While the grants were being competed, Flores had multiple contacts with one of the eventual grant winners, the Best Friends Foundation, including attending a $500-a-plate fundraiser for the organization. Best Friends won a grant despite ranking 53rd out of 104 applications.
Waxman said Flores "largely ignored" the recommendations of staffers who reviewed the grant proposals. He said some of the bidders he chose "appeared to have special access to Mr. Flores."
Flores "had discretion to award grants," Waxman said. But "nearly every official the committee spoke with, including the Justice Department peer reviewers, the civil service program managers and the career official in charge of the solicitation, told us that Mr. Flores' approach was neither fair nor transparent."
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said, "This hearing is little more than an attempt to earmark by oversight," because some members of Congress are unhappy with the choices that Flores made.
"The premise that grant awards must automatically go to top-scoring applicants has no basis in law, regulation or practice," Davis said.
Flores is reading his testimony, a draft of which was summarized yesterday on the home page of youthtoday.org.
He said all allegations that he showed favoritism in awarding grants are false. He said media reports that claim he showed favoritism are based on a lack of understanding about the review process. He said the reviewers rank the ability of the organization to carry out its proposal, but the reviewers do not recommend which programs to fund because no reviewer looks at all of the proposals.
He did not state, as his draft testimony said, that complaints about the World Golf Foundation grant are based in part on a bias against the wealthy.
Paying for Golf
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) launched the most aggressive questioning of the day. He charged that Flores might have violated federal ethics laws in his connections with the World Golf Foundation. His voice sometimes rising, Cummings:
* Said Flores took a trip to a foundation conference in Florida in 2006 and played a round of golf with the foundation without paying - a possible violation of federal ethics laws. Cummings then revealed a receipt showing that Flores paid $159 for that round of golf - yesterday.
Flores said the foundation was slow to respond to his request for a bill.
* Said Flores and his chief of staff, DeKonty, met with the foundation's presdient in June 2007 at a time when the foundation had a grant application before OJJDP. Flores said he will meet with bidders to help them with the grant application process. Cummings shot back that Flores refused to meet with some applicants that he subsequently did not fund, like Parents Anonymous. He also said OJJDP staff was told not to forward many such meeting requests to him.
"We can't meet with everybody," Flores said.
* Pressed Flores on how he felt about DeKonty taking the Fifth Amendment. "I don't have any concerns about that," he said.