Bill Would Force Action at OJJDP

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Yet another congressional committee is demanding answers and changes regarding how the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awards grants.

This time it's the House Committee on Appropriations, which, while ironing out details of the fiscal 2009 budget, has included language that directs the Justice Department's inspector general to review the fiscal 2007 grants awarded by OJJDP, and tells the department to submit "corrective actions" to insure that future grants "are awarded in a fair, competitive and peer-reviewed manner."

Only time will tell whether the language is more than tough-sounding words buried amid budget numbers. Last month, OJJDP Administrator J. Robert Flores told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that his agency awarded grants in a fair and competitive manner after peer reviews.

Last week, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee joined the investigation of OJJDP's grant making, asking the agency to provide numerous documents.

The final budget has not yet been approved by Congress.

In setting the budget for the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), where OJJDP is housed, the appropriations committee issued three clauses that address allegations of political favoritism and a lack of transparency at the department.

This clause comes under the heading, "Fairness and objectivity in the award of competitive grants":

"The Committee is deeply concerned over allegations that the Department steered fiscal year 2007 juvenile justice grants to favored recipients instead of awarding them to deserving grantees who ranked more highly in a peer-reviewed process. The Committee expects the Department to expedite its internal review of the 2007 grants process and awards, and to report within 30 days of enactment of this Act to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on its findings and the corrective actions taken to ensure that all OJP competitive grants are awarded in a fair, competitive and peer-reviewed manner. The Committee also directs the Inspector General to review the 2007 grant award process and report expeditiously to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. This matter is also addressed in the Juvenile Justice account."

An almost identical notation is included in OJJDP's budget language. It also requires the office to "report on corrective measures taken to ensure fairness and objectivity in the award of all future discretionary grants."

The committee also noted concern about "continuing allegations that political considerations are being placed above the law in enforcement, prosecutorial and policy decisions at the Department." It encourages Attorney General Michael Mukasey to "resolve swiftly all alleged incidences of politicization so that there is no appearance of impropriety in [Justice Department] operations."

That last clause appears to be in response to reports about how the department hired attorneys.