Semiannual Report to Congress

October 1, 2007-March 31, 2008
Office of the Inspector General

Office of Justice Programs
OJP logo 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.

Reports Issued

Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefits

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.

The Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program

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 Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative Reimbursement Program

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.

Audits of OJP Grants to State and Local Entities

During this reporting period, the OIG continued to conduct audits of grants awarded by OJP. Examples of findings from these audits included the following.


The following are examples of cases involving OJP that the OIG’s Investigations Division handled during this reporting period:

Ongoing Work

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.

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