A U.S. Senate committee today joined the investigation into whether the federal juvenile justice office awarded competitive grants based on political favoritism and personal connections.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Justice Department to provide a wide array of records from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), including the scores of all competitive grant bids over a two-year period and all communications about grant applicants by OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores.
The letter, signed by four other senators, cites reports in Youth Today that said Flores awarded grants to organizations that scored lower than dozens of applicants that he rejected, and reports in The Washington Post about investigations of Flores by the Justice Department's inspector general.
The action comes a little more than a week after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a public hearing about the controversy, during which the committee reported that several organizations got help from Flores in applying for and winning their grants. Flores testified that he acted within his discretion in awarding the grants and that the organizations deserve to be funded.
The June 27 letter by Leahy to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey asks for:
• All communications to or from OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores relating to any grant proposals or organizations considered for awards in fiscal 2007 and 2008.
• All correspondence between OJJDP and organizations that bid unsuccessfully for discretionary grant awards for fiscal 2007 and 2008 discussing the rejection of their grant proposals.
• A list of applicants for discretionary grants awarded by OJJDP for fiscal 2007 and 2008, including the requested funding amount, the process by which the application was reviewed, whether there was any external peer review, the applicant's technical evaluation scores, and the amounts awarded to grant winners.
• All documents relating to the technical review of applicants for discretionary grants awarded by OJJDP for fiscal 2007 and 2008, including all records and notes from the technical evaluation, the official decision memoranda, and any other communications relating to the evaluation or decision-making process used to award the grants.
• A summary of all investigations or non-routine audits concerning Flores or other OJJDP officials who participated in the grant evaluation and decision-making process.
• All OJJDP policies and procedures governing the evaluation of grant applications and the awarding of grants.
The letter is signed by Sens. Leahy, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
It says OJJDP "lacks sufficient transparency," and that news reports and the House hearing "have raised further questions about OJJDP's exercise of its grant-making authority."
The letter says that reports in Youth Today "have noted that the bids of some youth service organizations with long records of success have recently been rejected in favor of organizations with far shorter track records." It cites The World Golf Foundation and the Best Friends Foundation, two politically connected organizations that won controversial National Juvenile Justice Program grants last year.