Robert L. Ashbaugh
Acting Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice
House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Crime
Oversight of the
Community Oriented Policing Grant Program
October 28, 1999
* * * * *
Mr. Chairman, Congressman Scott, and Members of the Subcommittee on Crime:
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee to discuss the work of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with respect to oversight of the $8.8 billion Community Oriented Policing Services grant program. Specifically, I am here today to discuss two reports issued by the OIG within the last six months: 1) a summary report of findings and recommendations from our first 149 audits of grant recipients; and 2) a program audit that examined the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) and Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) administration of the grant program. I will address these reports in turn after providing brief background information on the OIG’s involvement in overseeing the COPS program.
In 1994, the President pledged to put 100,000 additional police officers on America's streets to promote community participation in the fight against crime. He subsequently signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Crime Act), authorizing the Attorney General to implement over six years an $8.8 billion grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies to hire or redeploy 100,000 additional officers to perform community policing.
The Attorney General established the COPS Office to administer the grant programs and to advance community policing across the country. The COPS Office is responsible for: (1) developing and announcing grant programs; (2) receiving and reviewing applications; (3) deciding which grants to award; and (4) monitoring programmatic issues related to grants. OJP is responsible for financial management of the COPS program.
In order to meet the President's goal of putting 100,000 additional police officers on the street, COPS developed six primary hiring and redeployment grant programs for state and local law enforcement agencies.1 Hiring grants fund the hiring of additional police officers and generally last for three years.
Redeployment grants are generally one-year grants that fund the cost of equipment, technology, and support resources – including civilian personnel – to free existing officers from administrative duties and redeploy them to the streets to perform community policing. At the end of the grant period, the state or local entity is expected to continue funding the new positions or continue the time savings that resulted from the equipment or technology purchases using its own funds.
The primary hiring and redeployment grants for the COPS program are:
- Phase I. In October 1994, the COPS Office awarded its first $200 million in grant funds, as directed by Congress, to applicants not funded under the PHS program. The COPS Office awarded Phase I grants to 392 state, municipal, county, and tribal law enforcement agencies. These grants made it possible for agencies to hire about 2,600 additional officers and deputies. Grants are no longer awarded under this program.
- Accelerated Hiring, Education, and Deployment (AHEAD). This program, developed in 1994, provided funds to law enforcement agencies serving populations of 50,000 or more. COPS AHEAD permitted agencies to begin recruiting and hiring new officers immediately in anticipation of subsequent COPS grant funding. Applicants were required to submit a "Letter of Intent to Participate" to COPS. Under COPS AHEAD, about $283 million in grants were awarded to policing agencies to fund the hiring of about 4,000 additional community policing officers. Grants are no longer awarded under this program.
- Funding Accelerated for Smaller Towns (FAST). This program was developed by COPS in 1994 to simplify the application process for jurisdictions serving populations of less than 50,000. Law enforcement agencies in these smaller jurisdictions were only required to submit a one-page, fill-in-the-blank application form to apply for a grant. Under COPS FAST, about $394 million in grants were awarded to policing agencies to fund the hiring of more than 6,000 officers and deputies. Grants are no longer awarded under this program.
- Universal Hiring Program (UHP). This program is open to all law enforcement agencies, regardless of the jurisdictions' population. All hiring grants awarded after FY 1995 are made under this program. Only agencies that have not received another COPS hiring grant are required to submit the UHP application. Under the UHP, recipients of COPS FAST and COPS AHEAD grants are required to submit only a UHP Officer Hiring Request form and revised budget information to be considered for a grant. According to COPS, as of February 1999 more than $3 billion in UHP grants had been awarded to fund the hiring of about 42,000 officers and deputies. Grants are still awarded under this program.
- Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE). The COPS MORE grant program is designed to expand the time available for community policing by current law enforcement officers, rather than fund the hiring of additional officers. This program is open to all law enforcement agencies, regardless of the jurisdictions' population. Grants are awarded for up to 75 percent of the cost of equipment and technology, support resources (including civilian personnel), or to pay overtime. For each $25,000 in federal funds received, agencies must redeploy the equivalent of one full-time sworn officer to community policing. The first grants were awarded in FY 1995. According to COPS, as of February 1999, about $967 million in grants were awarded under the MORE program to fund the redeployment of 35,852 officer full-time equivalents. Grants are still being awarded under this program.
Although not a hiring or redeployment grant, the Small Community Grant Program is open to communities with a population of less than 50,000. These grants supplement Phase I, FAST, or UHP grants and help to pay for a portion of the fourth-year salaries and benefits of existing COPS-funded officers. These one-time grants are specifically for the retention of previously funded COPS grant police officer positions and are not counted toward the President's 100,000 additional-officer goal.
The OIG has been involved with the COPS program in various advisory and oversight capacities since its inception. In 1994, we worked with OJP and later with COPS to review program announcements and application kits. Our focus at the time was on applicant eligibility and accountability issues. From 1994 to 1996 we performed pre-award reviews of 40 grant applicants. Because funds had yet to be disbursed, our work concentrated on whether information contained in grant applications was supported adequately and whether community groups and public/private agencies were consulted in formulating grant applications. Once COPS funds began to be dispersed, we audited as many grant recipients as our resources would permit.
During fieldwork for our July 1999 program audit of the COPS Office, COPS and OJP said that as of February 1999 they had awarded approximately $5 billion in grants to fund the hiring or redeployment of more than 92,000 officers, of which 50,139 officers had been hired and deployed to the streets. COPS obtains its "on the street" officer count by contacting grantees periodically by telephone. To our knowledge, the numbers obtained from these telephone calls are not further verified.
- Overview of Findings: April 1999 Summary Report
From October 1996 through September 1998, the OIG audited 149 recipients of COPS and OJP hiring and redeployment grants totaling $511 million, or 10 percent of the funds COPS has obligated for the program up to that point. We continue to perform grant audits as our resources permit and have issued an additional 54 COPS grantee audits – with 38 more audits at COPS and OJP for comment – that are not included in the summary report.
In April 1999, we issued a report summarizing the findings and recommendations from our first two years of COPS audits (Police Hiring and Redeployment Grants: Summary of Audit Findings and Recommendations, October 1996 - September 1998). Our audits of individual grant recipients focused on: (1) the allowability of grant expenditures; (2) whether local matching funds were previously budgeted for law enforcement; (3) the implementation or enhancement of community policing activities; (4) hiring efforts to fill vacant sworn officer positions; (5) plans to retain officer positions at grant completion; (6) grantee reporting; and (7) analyses of supplanting issues. For the 149 grant audits, we identified about $52 million in questioned costs and about $71 million in funds that could be better used. Our dollar-related findings amount to 24 percent of the total funds awarded to the 149 grantees.
Several caveats about the individual audit reports are appropriate before considering our April Summary Report:
- the audits are “snapshots” as of the grant report's issuance date. Subsequent communication between the auditee and COPS/OJP may result in correction to, or elimination of, the issues noted during our audit; and
- the audits may not be representative of the overall universe of grantees because, as a matter of policy, COPS has referred to us for review what it believes to be its riskiest grantees. During FY 1998, we began supplementing COPS requests for audits by selecting about one-half of the grantees ourselves. In some instances, we also targeted suspected problem grantees. Of the 149 audits we performed through September 30, 1998, COPS or OJP referred 103 to us. While we selected only 46 of the 149 audits summarized in this report, our results to date do not differ markedly from the results in the COPS/OJP referred audits.
It also should be noted that COPS and OJP do not always agree with our findings and recommendations and they may conclude that, upon further review and follow-up, in their judgment a grant violation did not occur. 2
Since our April 1999 Summary Report, COPS has appealed our findings to the Department’s Audit Resolution Committee (ARC), which is chaired by the Deputy Attorney General and exists to resolve disputes between OIG reports and auditees. COPS now disputes our findings in the areas of supplanting, retention, community policing, and redeployment. The ARC process is ongoing.
That said, highlights of our findings in the April Summary Report include:
- The COPS office counts 35,852 officers under the MORE program towards the President's goal of adding 100,000 additional officers. Fifty-two of the 67 grantees that we audited (78 percent) either could not demonstrate that they redeployed officers or could not demonstrate that they had a system in place to track the redeployment of officers into community policing. We believe that this redeployment program – comprising one-third of the total program goal – is the highest-risk COPS grant program.
- 60 of the 147 grantees that we audited (41 percent) showed indicators of using federal funds to supplant local funding instead of using grant funds to supplement local funding. When grantees use grant funds to replace local funds rather than to hire new officers, additional officers are not added to the nation's streets to perform community policing. Instead, federal funds are used to pay for existing police officers. The findings included budgeting for decreases in local positions after receiving COPS grants, using COPS funds to pay for local officers already on board, not filling vacancies promptly, and not meeting the requirements of providing matching funds.
- 83 of the 144 grantees we audited (58 percent) either did not develop a good faith plan to retain officer positions or said they would not retain the officer positions at the conclusion of the grant. If COPS positions are not retained beyond the conclusion of the grant, then COPS will have been a short-lived phenomena, rather than helping to launch a lasting change in policing.3 This is an increasingly important issue because many grants are expiring.
- 33 of the 146 grantees that we audited (23 percent) either did not adequately enhance community policing in accordance with their plans or were unable to adequately distinguish COPS activities from their pre-grant mode of operations. The findings suggest a need for COPS to refine its definition of the practices that constitute community policing as well as those that do not.
- 106 of the 140 grantees that we audited (76 percent) either failed to submit COPS initial reports, annual reports, or officer progress reports, or submitted these reports late. The reports are critical for COPS to monitor key grant conditions such as supplanting and retention.
- 137 of the 146 grantees that we audited (94 percent) did not submit all required Financial Status Reports to OJP or submitted them late. Without these reports, OJP cannot monitor implementation of important grant requirements.
- Overview of Findings: Audit of COPS Office
This program audit, issued in July 1999, reviewed the COPS Office’s and OJP’s administration of the community policing grant program. During our review we examined three major areas: 1) COPS’ ability to meet the President’s goal to put 100,000 additional police officers on the street by 2000; 2) COPS’ and OJP’s monitoring of grantees; and 3) the quality of guidance provided to grantees to assist them in implementing essential grant requirements.
The first objective of our audit was to assess COPS' progress in achieving its stated goal. We found that COPS has not been consistent with respect to when the 100,000 additional officers funded by the Crime Act will be "on the street." COPS officials state that their goal is to fund – i.e., to have approved grant applications for – 100,000 new officers by the end of FY 2000. COPS disclaimed a goal of having the 100,000 new officers hired and actually deployed to the streets by the end of FY 2000, even though this goal has been stated by COPS Office publications and Department reports, and in speeches by Administration officials.
Clearly, the COPS grants will not result in 100,000 additional officers on the streets by the end of FY 2000. Based on projections by the COPS Office, only 59,765 of the additional officers will be deployed by the end of FY 2000. COPS counts an officer as funded when it approves the grantees' application for award of the grant instead of when the grantee actually accepts the grant. While COPS projects that it will fund 107,019 additional officers by FY 2000, our audit findings raise serious questions about whether several thousands of these "funded" officers that are currently counted toward COPS' goal will ever materialize.
In addition to the findings mentioned above about redeployment, retention, supplanting, and community policing – all important issues towards achieving the goal of 100,000 new community policing officers on the street – we made the following specific findings regarding COPS ability to meet their stated objective:
- Law enforcement agencies had not accepted approximately $485 million in grant funds offered by COPS within the designated acceptance period. Nonetheless, COPS counts the 7,722 officers that could be funded by these grants towards its goal. At the time of our audit, these grants had not been accepted even though an average of more than one year had passed since they were awarded. In addition, COPS also counted prematurely another 2,526 officers towards its goal of 100,000 new officers, even though the 741 award documents for these officers had not been provided to the grantee for acceptance. These grants accounted for another $96 million.
- Grantees had terminated at least 500 grants for 1,300 officer positions during the first four years of the COPS program and additional grants may be terminated during the remainder of the program. COPS had not deobligated 127 of the 500 grants totaling about $15.1 million. Moreover, the 373 grants that were deobligated were not deobligated promptly. Failure to promptly deobligate terminated grants could give the appearance that COPS is further towards meeting the 100,000 goal than in fact is the case.
- Grantees will not be required to retain through FY 2000 at least 31,091 of the total funded officer positions because COPS only requires the grantees to retain the positions for a minimum of one budget cycle after the budget cycle in which the grants expire.
The second objective of our audit was to assess COPS’ and OJP’s controls over monitoring of grantees. A variety of regulations require that recipients of federal funds be monitored to ensure proper use of the funds. To this end, the COPS Office and OJP require each grantee to file periodically various progress reports that are important to help monitor compliance with grant conditions.
We determined that many grantees did not submit the required program and financial reports to COPS and OJP.4 These reports are critical for COPS to monitor key grant conditions, such as supplanting and retention of officers. Given the significant number of grantees that had not submitted the required reports, we recommended that COPS increase its monitoring efforts to ensure that reports are submitted. The COPS Office has increased its efforts to monitor grantees by creating a Grant Monitoring Division to conduct site visit reviews of selected grantees and has revised its site visit protocol to address the shortcomings identified in our audit. In addition, COPS has hired a Financial Officer to improve the financial controls over the grants.
Finally, our findings suggest that, in addition to better monitoring by both the COPS Office and OJP, COPS’ guidance to grantees could be improved to ensure that critical grant requirements are understood and met. Specifically, we found that COPS needs to better define its requirements for non-supplanting, allowable and unallowable costs, redeployment, officer retention, community policing, and progress reporting. The COPS Office has recognized these weaknesses and has developed additional guidance to grantees about these critical issues.
- Financial Statement Audit Findings
Finally, the OIG oversees a yearly independent audit of all Department components in accordance with the Government Management Reform Act of 1994. For purposes of this financial statement audit, the COPS Office is included in the Department’s Offices, Boards and Divisions (OBDs) reporting component. For fiscal year 1998, the OBDs received a “disclaimer of an opinion” on its financial statements because the auditors were unable to obtain sufficient evidence as to the validity of various accounts in the financial statements and, thus, the scope of their work was not sufficient to express an opinion. Shortcomings in COPS’ financial controls were one of the major reasons the OBDs received such a disclaimer.
Specifically, the independent auditors cited problems in calculating advances and accrued expenditures for grants provided under the COPS program as one of the disclaimer issues. These and other issues involving COPS’ financial controls were reported as a material weakness in the Report on Internal Controls. The auditors stressed the importance of having properly operating controls to ensure that funds are disbursed in accordance with COPS policies and procedures and accounted for correctly in accordance with federal accounting standards.
In performing the FY 1998 audit of COPS, the independent auditors also reported errors and inconsistencies in the calculation of the accrual for grant disbursements, data integrity issues in the grant accounting system, and non-compliance with COPS’ policies and procedures. With respect to the non-compliance issues, the auditors concluded that:
- documentation was not available to support COPS’ determination that an effort would be made to retain officers at the conclusion of the grant period;
- reports used by COPS to determine that federal grants were not being used to supplant state or local funds were not always evident, thus raising the question of how COPS could make this determination; and
- information was not complete enough to determine whether other program requirements were being met.
This completes my summary of the activities of my office with respect to the COPS program. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
1 In 1993, prior to the passage of the Crime Act, Congress provided funds for the Police Hiring Supplement program (PHS), a competitive program awarding grants directly to law enforcement jurisdictions to hire additional officers. This program, administered by OJP, provided almost $150 million as a "down payment" towards deploying 100,000 additional police officers on the street. One-half of the PHS funds were designated for jurisdictions with populations of 150,000 or less and one-half for jurisdictions with populations above 150,000. These grants made it possible for jurisdictions to hire a total of about 2,000 officers and deputies. The positions are counted toward the 100,000 officer goal. Grants are no longer awarded under this program.
2 After we issue our grant reports, COPS, OJP, and the grantee are responsible for ensuring that corrective action is taken. By agreement with COPS, OJP is our primary point of contact on follow-up activity for the grants, although COPS works with OJP to address our audit findings and recommendations, particularly those that indicate supplanting has occurred. The options available to COPS and OJP to resolve our dollar-related findings and recommendations include: (1) collection or offset of funds, (2) withholding funds from grantees, (3) bringing the grantee into compliance with grant terms, or (4) concluding that our recommendations cannot or should not be implemented. To address our non dollar-related findings and recommendations, COPS and OJP can, in addition to other options, bring the grantee into compliance with grant requirements or waive certain grant requirements. When OJP submits documentation to us showing that it has addressed our recommendations, the audit report is closed.
3 The COPS AHEAD, FAST, UHP, and all MORE grants required applicants to plan in "good-faith" for continuation of the program following the conclusion of federal support; however, the retention period was not specified. In our judgment, however, the intent of the COPS grant program appears to be that all officer positions funded should be retained. In August 1998, COPS established a policy that grantees are required only to maintain the COPS-funded officer positions for a minimum of "one budget cycle" after the budget cycle in which COPS funding ends (i.e., usually one additional year). In mid-1998, we believe in response to our audit findings, COPS began requiring grantees to develop written retention plans as part of the grant application.
4 We reviewed the grant files and OJP's financial tracking system records for 200 randomly selected grants. For the 200 grants, 2,074 quarterly financial reports should have been submitted to OJP from the beginning of the grants to the quarter ending December 31, 1997. However, the grantees had not submitted 649 (31 percent) of the required reports. Moreover, the grantees submitted 493 (35 percent) of the remaining 1,425 reports late.