Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation of J. Robert Flores, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, amid questions about his hiring practices, travel expenses, and personal ties to groups to which he gave millions of dollars, reports the Washington Post. Scrutiny of Flores intensified yesterday as lawmakers asked him to explain why he brushed aside recommendations from career staff members to hand out more than $8 million in awards last year.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee focused on decisions by Flores to give grants to the World Golf Foundation’s First Tee initiative, whose honorary chairman is former president George H.W. Bush, and a sexual abstinence program promoted by Best Buddies, led by Elaine Bennett, wife of Reagan administration Cabinet official Bill Bennett. Nonprofit groups that focus on child protection complained that they failed to win funding last year even though they had higher rankings from independent peer reviewers and career staff members in the agency. Flores asserted that he had the authority to override staff recommendations and that he had made decisions on the merits — not personal or religious ties. Flores’s alleged use of government funds for personal travel expenses and his hiring of a politically well-connected contractor who allegedly performed little work in a high-paying job had been the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.