Lawmakers and Justice Department auditors are examining millions of dollars in crime-fighting grants awarded by the agency last year to determine whether personal ties may have influenced the process, the Washington Post reports. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has interviewed current and former employees in the Justice Department’s grant-making units about whether officials disregarded independent reviews and steered awards to favored groups.
Justice Department staff members who oversee money targeted for juvenile offenders sounded alarms earlier this year about what they called a haphazard approach that disadvantaged worthy applicants in favor of a program that promoted golf for inner-city teenagers. Now members of Congress and watchdog groups are calling on investigators to expand their inquiry into the Byrne Grant program, the federal government’s primary effort to support local crime fighting across the nation. Said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), “It’s insulting to all the programs that work hard on their applications to have merit take a back seat to who you know.” Each year, the Justice Department doles out more than $2 billion in grants. Some of the criticisms about the grants will be aired today when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), will question J. Robert Flores, chief of the department’s office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.