|OJP manages the majority of the Department’s grant programs and is responsible for developing initiatives to address crime at the state and local level. OJP has a personnel ceiling of 697 positions and is composed of 5 bureaus – Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) – as well as the Community Capacity Development Office and the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking Office.|
The OIG’s Evaluation and Inspections Division reviewed OJP’s implementation of the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits Act of 2003 (Hometown Heroes Act). This review was in response to Congressional concerns that OJP took too long to process claims submitted under the Act and that OJP’s narrow interpretation of terms found in the Act was causing a high rate of claims denials.
BJA manages Hometown Heroes Act claims as part of its Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, which provides death and educational assistance benefits to survivors of public safety officers who died and disability benefits to officers injured in the line of duty. The Hometown Heroes Act expanded the benefits program to include benefits for deaths from heart attacks or strokes that occur in the line of duty or within 24 hours of a triggering effect while on duty. The Act also included a statutory presumption that public safety officers who died from a heart attack or stroke following a “nonroutine stressful or strenuous” physical public safety activity or training died in the line of duty for the program’s purposes.
Our evaluation found that as of November 29, 2007, OJP had completed only half of the Hometown Heroes Act claims it received in the first 3 years after the Act’s passage. One reason for the delay in processing claims was that OJP took 33 months to issue final regulations implementing the Act. During that time, OJP developed a backlog of 201 claims. After OJP issued the necessary regulations in September 2006, it processed claims slowly because: 1) most claims had been submitted without required documentation, 2) its Office of the General Counsel’s legal reviews of claims were time consuming, and 3) decisions on some claims were delayed because OJP could not obtain necessary pathology reviews. In late 2007, OJP implemented several initiatives designed to expedite its processing of claims and, by the end of our review, had reduced the backlog of claims to 99. In March 2008, the backlog had been reduced to 27 claims.
We also found that OJP initially denied some claims based in part on its narrow legal interpretation of the definition of “nonroutine” activities. In October 2007, BJA issued policy memoranda clarifying that any response to an emergency call should be considered “nonroutine” for purposes of analyzing claims under the Act. The Director of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program Office stated that this step has led to more claims being approved and faster claims processing.
The OIG recommended that OJP finalize a guide to the Hometown Heroes Act directed to claimants, have its Office of the General Counsel establish more definitive timeliness standards for its legal reviews of claims, and use a new case management system to expedite processing of claims. OJP agreed with our recommendations.
In January 2008, the OIG’s Evaluation and Inspections Division released a follow-up report examining OJP’s Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program. Coverdell grants are awarded to state and local governments to improve the timeliness and quality of their forensic science and medical examiner services and to eliminate backlogs in the analysis of DNA and other forensic evidence. One condition of receiving a Coverdell grant is the grantee must certify that an entity exists and an appropriate process is in place to conduct independent external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. This requirement was implemented to address allegations of forensic laboratory negligence, misconduct, and false testimony by forensic laboratory staff that have led to wrongful convictions in several states.
A December 2005 OIG report concluded that OJP was not effectively administering the certification requirement because it had not required grant applicants to identify the names of the certified government entities. Our latest review, issued in January 2008, examined OJP’s administration of the Coverdell independent investigation certification requirement and found that, even though OJP has obtained certifications from grant applicants, it has not ensured that applicants certify entities that are qualified to conduct independent investigations of the forensics laboratories and has not required that allegations be appropriately referred for investigation. We also found that, while OJP had started requiring applicants to provide the name of the government entity, OJP still was not ensuring that applicants named entities that were actually capable of conducting independent investigations of alleged wrongdoing. The OIG review found that one-third of the named entities lacked the authority, capabilities and resources, or an appropriate process to conduct independent external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. In addition, several certifying officials told the OIG that when they completed the certification they did not have a specific entity in mind and merely signed the document OJP provided. We also found that OJP did not provide adequate guidance to ensure that grantees and forensic laboratories actually referred allegations of negligence and misconduct to the certified government entities for investigation.
The OIG made three recommendations to improve the effectiveness of OJP’s grant administration and better ensure that serious allegations of negligence or misconduct are referred for independent investigations. OJP concurred with recommendations that it provide guidance to refer allegations to certified government entities and to revise and document its application review process. OJP did not agree with the recommendation to require applicants to name the government entities and confirm that the entities have the authority, independence, and the resources to conduct independent, external investigations.
The OIG’s Audit Division audited the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI), a $30 million annual program administered by OJP through which the Department provides reimbursement to four Southwest Border states and local jurisdictions for the prosecution and pre-trial detention costs in federally initiated cases that are declined by the USAO.
We found several deficiencies in OJP’s oversight of the SWBPI program. From October 1, 2001, through September 31, 2006, OJP provided $161 million in reimbursement to four Southwest Border states and local jurisdictions. In seven audits of individual jurisdictions who received this funding, we found $15.7 million in questioned costs, which represented 28 percent of the total $55 million in reimbursements that we audited. We also found that OJP does not require applicants to provide documentation supporting reimbursement requests, does not review the applications for accuracy, and does not monitor recipients to determine the eligibility of cases submitted for reimbursement. In our judgment, most of the unallowable and unsupported reimbursements we identified could have been avoided if OJP required applicants to submit supporting documents.
On every SWBPI reimbursement application, the jurisdiction’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or designee must certify that the SWBPI claim, combined with other federal funding, does not exceed 100 percent of the cost of prosecuting and detaining defendants during the reporting period. However, we found that reimbursements are not linked to actual costs incurred by the jurisdictions to prosecute federally declined criminal cases. Moreover, none of the seven jurisdictions included in our audit maintained any documentation to support the costs submitted for reimbursement that were associated with SWBPI cases. This resulted in reimbursements totaling $49.78 million that could not be linked to actual costs incurred by the jurisdictions to prosecute federally declined criminal cases.
Additionally, on every SWBPI reimbursement application the jurisdiction’s CEO or designee is required to certify that the SWBPI claim has been adjusted to account for additional prosecution and pre-trial detention funding received through other federal programs. We found that six of the seven state and local jurisdictions included in our audit did not take any steps to ensure that the SWBPI reimbursements, when combined with additional federal funding, did not exceed the cost to prosecute the SWBPI cases. This failure could result in jurisdictions being reimbursed by the federal government more than once for the same prosecutions and pre-trial detention services.
We made 13 recommendations regarding OJP’s oversight of the SWBPI. OJP agreed with our recommendations.
During this reporting period, the OIG continued to conduct audits of grants awarded by OJP. Examples of findings from these audits included the following.
We found that the city and county of San Francisco, California, which received more than $5.4 million in SWBPI funding, claimed and received unallowable reimbursements for the 2,241 cases submitted that were not initiated by a federal law enforcement agency or task force in accordance with SWBPI guidelines. We questioned the reimbursements for the total amount of $5.4 million that San Francisco received. OJP agreed with our recommendation to remedy the more than $5.4 million in questioned costs.
We found that Brooks County, Texas, which received more than $7.8 million in SWBPI funding, claimed and was reimbursed for unsupported cases and cases that were ineligible under SWBPI guidelines. Based on unallowable and unsupported costs, we identified questioned costs of more than $1.9 million.
BJA awarded a Community Justice Empowerment Project grant totaling approximately $3.16 million to the National Training and Information Center (NTIC) in Chicago, Illinois, to provide training, technical assistance, and funding to community-based organizations. More than half the grant funds were awarded to subgrantees who were to be competitively selected on their ability to run a successful community program. However, evidence in the grantee’s files and statements by NTIC staff revealed that the majority of subgrantees were instead selected based upon their connection to influential lawmakers. Moreover, while a major element of the grant was to provide training to the subgrantees and significant funds were spent for training conferences, considerable portions of these sessions were dedicated to conducting congressional lobbying visits and training subgrantees on how to conduct successful lobbying activities.
In addition, we found inadequate controls over expenditures, unallowable personnel costs, improper and unallowable non-personnel costs, and contractor irregularities, and we questioned the entire grant amount. We made 37 recommendations to OJP to address the deficiencies we identified during our audit. OJP agreed with our recommendations and suspended funding to NTIC.
The OIG’s Investigations Division initiated a criminal investigation related to this grant. As a result, the NTIC Executive Director was arrested, pled guilty, and served a sentence for misuse of federal program funds. A civil complaint pursuant to the False Claims Act has also been filed in the Northern District of Illinois.
The following are examples of cases involving OJP that the OIG’s Investigations Division handled during this reporting period:
In our March 2007 Semiannual Report to Congress, we reported on a joint investigation by the OIG’s San Francisco Area Investigations and Audit Offices, FBI, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Internal Revenue Service that led to the arrest of the former Mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska, and his wife on charges of theft of $450,000 in federal grant funds, conspiracy, and money laundering. The investigation developed evidence that the former Mayor and his wife used grant funds from OJP and HUD that were designated to operate a non-profit organization to purchase a flat screen television and other items for personal use and to partially fund the building of their church. During this reporting period, the former Mayor was convicted on 16 counts of theft of government funds, conspiracy, money laundering, and submitting false tax returns, while his wife pled guilty to charges of money laundering and theft of federal funds. Sentencing is scheduled for May 2008.
A joint investigation by the OIG’s Chicago Field Office and the FBI led the arrest and guilty plea of a Department grantee on charges of theft of program funds. The investigation determined that the grantee, while serving as ombudsman for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana, stole $57,916 in BJA grant funds and $30,914 in general funds belonging to the Sheriff’s Department. The grantee had applied for the federal grant funds without the knowledge of county officials, then withdrew the funds from a special projects account and deposited them into his personal bank accounts. The grantee used the funds for personal expenditures, including jewelry, clothing, furniture, and a trip to Florida. He was sentenced in the Southern District of Indiana to 18 months’ incarceration followed by 3 years’ supervised release. He also was ordered to pay restitution to the Department and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department.
Management of the Grant Program for Human Trafficking Victims
OVC provides grants to support victim service programs for alien victims trafficked into or within the United States who require emergency services. The OIG is examining the extent to which the grant program has achieved its objective in providing effective assistance for victims of trafficking.
NIJ’s Grant and Contract Award Practices
As required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, the OIG is examining contracts and grants awarded by the NIJ in the last 3 fiscal years, including the competition for these grants and the potential for conflicts of interest in the awards process.