GAO-12-342SP: Homeland security/Law enforcement: 16. Department of Justice Grants

Homeland security/Law enforcement > 16. Department of Justice Grants

The Department of Justice could improve how it targets nearly $3.9 billion to reduce the risk of potential, unnecessary duplication across the more than 11,000 grant awards it makes annually.

Why This Area Is Important

Since fiscal year 2005, Congress has appropriated approximately $30 billion for crime prevention, law enforcement, and crime victim services for more than 200 federal financial assistance programs that the Department of Justice (Justice) manages.[1] These federal financial assistance programs provide funding through formula grants, discretionary grants, cooperative agreements, and other payment programs, but are all generally referred to as grants.[2] In 2010, Justice awarded nearly $3.9 billion in grants through its three granting agencies—the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office. As established in statute, some of the grant programs administered by OJP, OVW, and the COPS Office are similar in scope and grant applicants can apply for and receive grant awards from more than one program. Moreover, grant recipients may choose to award a portion of their grant to subgrantees. These subgrantees may also apply directly to Justice for funding through other grant programs for the same or similar purposes. The number of grant programs and recipients, and the billions of dollars in funds awarded annually, present administrative challenges for Justice.

As the United States experiences budgetary constraints, there is an ever-increasing need to ensure that governmental resources—including those awarded through grants and subgrants—are appropriately targeted and unnecessary duplication is mitigated. Further, Justice’s Office of the Inspector General continues to include Justice’s grants management among its list of top challenges affecting the department, and in previous reports, has identified fragmentation and duplication between Justice’s granting agencies. The Inspector General noted that such fragmentation incurs additional cost to Justice, and recommended closer coordination to ensure that awards are not made to the same grantee for similar purposes.[3]



[1]The amount appropriated since fiscal year 2005 does not include amounts appropriated in fiscal year 2012. In addition to fiscal year funding from 2005 through 2011, this amount includes $4 billion appropriated in fiscal year 2009 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115, 129-30), which includes $10 million for salaries and expenses to manage, administer, and oversee the grant programs.

[2]Formula grant programs are noncompetitive awards based on a predetermined formula. Discretionary grants are awarded on the basis of a competitive process. A cooperative agreement is a type of federal financial assistance similar to a grant except the federal government is more substantially involved with the grant. Payment programs at Justice typically take the form of reimbursements to state and local law enforcement entities for purchases such as body armor or the cost to border states for prosecuting criminal cases.

[3]U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, Audit Report 03-27, Streamlining of Administrative Activities and Federal Financial Assistance Functions in the Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (Washington, D.C.: August 2003).

What GAO Found

Based on audit work with associated findings to be published in a forthcoming report, GAO found instances where Justice’s granting agencies had awarded funds from different grant programs to the same applicants whose applications described similar—and in some cases, the same—purposes for using the grant funds.[1] According to Justice officials, funding from multiple Justice grant programs may be necessary to fully implement grantees’ initiatives. GAO acknowledges that there may be times when Justice’s decision to fund grantees in this manner is warranted. However, GAO found that Justice made grant award decisions without visibility over whether the funds supported similar or the same purposes, thus potentially resulting in unnecessary and unintended duplication. Moreover, Justice has not assessed its grant programs to determine the extent to which they overlap with one another and determine if consolidation of grant programs may be appropriate. Further, Justice’s granting agencies have not established consistent policies and procedures for sharing grant application information that could help them identify and mitigate any unnecessary duplication in how grantees intend to use their grant awards. Additionally, the granting agencies do not consider subgrant data, such as award amounts and project purposes, as criteria in making grant award decisions. As a result, Justice is at risk of unintentionally awarding funding from multiple grant programs to grant recipients in the same communities for the same or similar purposes because it does not consistently and routinely check for any unnecessary duplication in grant applications.[2]

GAO reviewed all 253 of Justice’s three granting agencies’ fiscal year 2010 grant program solicitations, which serve as announcements of new grant funding available and explain areas for which funding can be used. These solicitations and the respective grant awards are in addition to grant programs that Justice continues to administer from prior fiscal years or more recently began administering.[3] The review found evidence of overlap in the justice areas that Justice’s grant programs aim to support. For example, as the table below illustrates, 56 of Justice’s 253 grant solicitations—or more than 20 percent—were providing grant funds that could be used for victim assistance. Eighteen of these 56 programs were administered by offices other than OVW and OJP’s Office for Victims of Crime, whose primary functions are to serve individuals who have been victims of crime. In addition, more than 50 percent of all grant solicitations provided funding that could be used in support of the same three justice areas—victim assistance, technology and forensics, and juvenile justice—indicating concentrated and overlapping efforts. The justice area with the least overlap was juvenile justice with 30 of 33 grant programs administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Breakdown of Fiscal Year 2010 Justice Grant Solicitations by Office and Justice Area

 

Justice Area

Component / program office

Victim assistance

Technology and forensics

Juvenile justice

Enhancing policing

Justice information sharing

Courts

Community crime prevention strategies

Mental illness, substance abuse, and crime

Corrections, recidivism, and reentry

Multi-
purposea

Total

COPS

0

1

0

2

0

0

3

1

0

0

7

Jointb

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

3

6

OVW

15

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

17

OJPc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BJA

2

2

0

7

3

7

3

6

7

5

42

BJS

5

2

2

3

6

4

1

1

4

2

30

CCDO

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

2

NIJ

3

36

0

4

0

1

4

0

5

8

61

OJJDP

8

0

30

7

1

8

4

0

0

3

61

OVC

23

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

23

SMART

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

2

0

4

Total solicitations

56

41

33

23

12

21

17

8

20

22

253

Total award amount (in millions)d

$872

$325

$264

$386

$98

$77

$77

$53

$430

$810

$3,393e

Source: GAO analysis of Justice data.

Notes: Solicitations in this table reflect those for direct assistance, such as funds Justice provides for the hiring of police officers, as well as those for research and data collection on the related justice areas.

aMultipurpose solicitations were solicitations for grants that addressed more than one justice area within a single solicitation.

bJoint refers to solicitations issued jointly by multiple program offices, components, or departments (e.g., Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, or BJA and OJJDP).

cOJP is comprised of a number of smaller bureaus and offices. BJA is the Bureau of Justice Assistance; BJS is the Bureau of Justice Statistics; CCDO is the Community Capacity Development Office; NIJ is the National Institute of Justice; OJJDP is the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; OVC is the Office for Victims of Crime; and SMART is the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking Office.

dActual amount awarded to grantees in millions.

eThis amount excludes congressional earmarks and direct benefits paid to families of fallen officers from Justice’s Public Service Pension Benefit Program.

 

According to Justice officials, the statutory creation of grant programs with similar purposes requires grant design coordination within and among Justice’s granting agencies to limit the risk of unnecessary duplication from overlapping programs. Officials from all three granting agencies stated that they regularly meet with one another to coordinate the goals and objectives of their grant programs, especially joint grant programs that they believe are complementary. For example, the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office for Victims of Crime issued a joint solicitation for anti-human trafficking programs where each office issued separate awards based on coordinated proposals from collaborating police departments and community-based victim service organizations. Further, according to officials, Justice recently launched the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation to provide a single application for most of Justice’s tribal grant programs.

However, as the above table illustrates, there are a number of justice areas in which Justice is offering dozens of grant solicitations, yet Justice has not assessed the universe of grant solicitations across its granting agencies to identify justice purpose areas that may be overlapping. As a result, without this assessment, Justice lacks information on the extent to which unnecessary duplication in the administration and grantee use of funds in these areas may exist. Additionally, Justice’s granting agencies have not established policies and procedures requiring consistent coordination to mitigate the risks of unnecessary duplication before finalizing their award decisions. While coordination about program goals may be occurring on an ad hoc basis, GAO found that the granting agencies do not systematically coordinate their application reviews to mitigate the risk of unnecessary duplication.

According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, one way to ensure that program managers are effectively managing and efficiently using resources is to have access to all financial data—such as grant awards, prime and subgrant recipient names, and planned or implemented activities. In part because Justice’s granting agencies do not routinely share grant applicant finalist lists with one another before making their award decisions, GAO identified instances where Justice’s granting agencies had awarded funds from different grant programs to the same grantees whose applications described similar—and in some cases, the same—purposes for using the grant funds without being aware of the potential for unnecessary duplication or whether it was warranted.

Specifically, after reviewing a sample of 26 grant applications from recipients who received funds from grant programs GAO identified as having similar purpose areas, GAO found instances where applicants were using the same or similar language to apply for multiple streams of funding. For example, one grant recipient applied for funding from both the COPS Office’s Child Sexual Predator Program and OJP’s Internet Crimes Against Children program to reduce child endangerment through cyber investigations. In both of these separate applications, the applicant stated that it planned to use the grants to increase the number of investigations in its state, provide training for cyber crime investigations, serve as a forensic resource for the state, and establish an internet safety program. Further, included in this applicant’s proposed budgets for both funding streams was a plan to purchase equipment, such as forensic computers and the same specialized software to investigate internet crimes against children. Another grant recipient applied for funding from the aforementioned COPS Office and OJP programs to support the same types of investigations. In a third instance, an applicant received fiscal year 2010 grant funding for planned sexual assault victim services from both the Office for Victims of Crime and OVW. The applicant used similar language in both applications, noting that it intended to use the funding to support child victim services through its child advocacy center. After reviewing a draft of this report section, Justice followed-up with the grant recipients in these instances and reported to GAO that the grantees were not using awarded funds for duplicative purposes. However, such follow-up for the purpose of assessing duplication is not a routine practice for Justice. Absent routine coordination among its granting agencies before awarding grants, Justice is not positioned to mitigate the risk of funding unnecessarily duplicative grants.

In fiscal year 2010, Justice’s three granting agencies awarded more than 11,000 prime grant awards, but officials said that they do not generally assess the flow of funds to subgrant recipients and in many instances do not know the extent to which subgrants are made and for what purposes and activities. Officials from Justice’s granting agencies told GAO that they encourage applicants to apply for as many sources of Justice funding as possible, yet the granting agencies are not assessing subgrant data with the specific intent to identify any unnecessarily duplicative grant awards. According to the OJP officials, state and local communities have expansive criminal justice needs and therefore they encourage applicants to seek out as much Justice grant funding as possible, including from grant programs that may have similar objectives or allow for similar activities to be carried out.

Justice officials reported that OVW assesses subgrant data for some of its formula grant programs to better understand how funding is used; however, officials did not provide specific examples of how such assessments are used to identify unnecessary duplication in funding. In addition, officials indicated that OVW required applicants for some of its fiscal year 2010 grant programs to notify OVW of the other federal grant programs it had either received money from or applied for in the same fiscal year, but GAO found that this requirement was not in place across allOVW programs. Further, OVW officials stated they intended to require that applicants for all of OVW’s programs identify other federal funding they are receiving beginning in fiscal year 2012. While this is a positive step, there is no indication that this information would be shared with other granting agencies or whether other granting agencies are considering implementing a similar practice.

In part because this coordination is not routinely occurring before grant awards are made, GAO found examples where federal funds were awarded to the same local communities through multiple grants including subawards for the same or similar uses. In one of the states GAO visited, a county received an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program subaward and used the funding for its officers to conduct community policing. The county also received a COPS Office hiring grant and used the funding for an officer to conduct community policing.[4] Additionally, the largest city in this county received a COPS Office Hiring grant to conduct community policing. Because this city received the COPS Office funding to conduct community policing in geographical areas that overlapped with areas in the county already served by JAG-funded police officers, three Justice grant awards were used to provide community policing to overlapping areas in the county. Officials from two additional counties in the state told GAO they received funding for drug court-assisted substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling through both a JAG program subaward and a grant directly from OJP’s Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program. Officials from one of these counties informed GAO that they received so much Justice funding from the two different grant programs that they planned to return a portion to Justice because the funding exceeded their needs.

State Officials from 10 of the 11 states GAO interviewed stated that the delivery of federal criminal justice assistance could be improved and the risk of unnecessary duplication limited if Justice relied more on their perspectives before making discretionary grant awards to localities in their states. In particular, officials from two of these states told GAO that they are better positioned than Justice to determine the demonstrated needs of their communities. Moreover, state officials reported they would prefer to receive assistance from Justice in the form of block grants citing reasons such as flexibility and reducing unnecessary duplication and fragmentation. With respect to state input related to discretionary grant award decisions, Justice officials stated that since states can compete with localities for the receipt of direct awards, the provision of pre-award information to the states or the solicitation of states for input on funding decisions could present a conflict of interest. With respect to block grants, Justice officials added that they believe the department is in a unique position to test, disseminate, evaluate, and foster best practices at a national level.

OJP officials also stated that because programs are created by statute, they have little discretion related to grant program design and may be limited in the extent to which they can consolidate similar programs and solicitations.[5] Justice officials stated that the timeline for reviewing applications, making recommendations on their merit, and processing awards each year is compressed and that it would be difficult to build in the extra time and level of coordination required to complete an intradepartmental review for potentially unnecessary duplication of funding prior to making awards. The officials added that it would take even more time if granting agencies were to attempt a pre-award duplication review at the subgrantee level. However, because OJP officials stated that previous and pending grant award information would be very useful when they make grant award decisions, they are exploring ways to make such a review more automated by leveraging their grant systems.

GAO understands that the time necessary to complete annual grant awards makes such a review process more difficult; however, OJP actions to automate reviews using previous and pending grant award information could help overcome this challenge. Moreover, although statutory authorizations for grant programs may limit Justice’s discretion over grant program design, developing agency procedures to avoid unnecessary grant duplication is one of the promising practices that the federal Domestic Working Group Grant Accountability Project suggested in its Guide to Opportunities for Improving Grant Accountability.[6]Moreover, while assessing its programs might be time intensive on the front end, such a review could yield positive dividends for the department over the longer term. Specifically, Justice could improve grants management by first understanding the areas in which individual granting agencies may be awarding funds for the same or similar purposes, whether these grant programs appropriately channel the department’s priorities, and whether any existing duplication is desirable. By focusing on how the grants align with priorities and understanding where coordination can be improved or the risk of unnecessary duplication reduced, Justice could then better target limited grant resources.

In addition, Justice could improve its decision making before finalizing awards. By sharing information with one another about past and prospective grantees, Justice’s granting agencies could better ensure that applicants from certain communities already receiving funds from one program are not then inadvertently awarded funds from another program for the same or similar purposes. In some instances, Justice may deem it appropriate for large numbers of distinct grant programs to serve one goal, or for the same communities to benefit from multiple streams of grant funding. However, unless Justice considers information it has available, it cannot know with certainty where it’s funding is going, how it is being used, and whether it is awarding grant dollars in the most efficient way.



[1]Reviewing and validating that grantees actually used the funds for the articulated purposes was not within GAO’s scope. GAO’s review focused on what the grantees proposed in their applications and Justice’s review and approval of those applications.

[2]The three granting agencies support criminal justice interventions targeted at the community level.

[3]Because Justice grant programs can last from 1 to 5 years, the total number of active Justice grant programs can be higher than what is presented in the table, which is a single year of grant program solicitations.

[4]The COPS Office hiring grant awarded to this county was for fiscal year 2009. COPS Office hiring grants last up to 3 years and the county used the grant in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

[5]The fiscal year 2012 Justice Congressional Budget Justification, however, recognized the potential for consolidation by stating that “whenever possible, the President’s Budget proposes to consolidate existing programs into larger, more flexible programs that offer state, local, and tribal grantees greater flexibility in using grant funding and developing innovative approaches to their criminal justice needs.”

[6]The Domestic Working Group is comprised of 18 federal government inspectors general and other state and local audit organizations, and is chaired by the Comptroller General of the United States.

Actions Needed

 

Based on ongoing work, GAO anticipates recommending the following:

The Attorney General of the United States should

  • conduct an assessment to better understand the extent to which its grant programs overlap with one another and determine if grant programs may be consolidated to mitigate the risk of unnecessary duplication. To the extent that Justice identifies any statutory obstacles to consolidating its grant programs, it should work with Congress to address them, as needed.
  • direct granting agencies to coordinate with one another on a consistent basis to review potential or recent grant awards, including subgrant awards reported by Justice prime grant awardees, to the extent possible, before awarding grants. This could help ensure an accurate understanding of Justice resources already provided to applicants and the communities they serve, as well as knowledge of those applicants proposing to carry out the same or similar activities with funds from one or more of the granting agencies’ programs. Justice should also take steps to establish written policies and procedures to govern this coordination and help ensure that it occurs.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

 

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the products listed in the related GAO products section as well as additional work GAO conducted to be published as a separate product in 2012. To identify the total number of Justice grant solicitations for fiscal year 2010, GAO reviewed the lists posted on the OJP, COPS Office, and OVW websites and confirmed the currency of the information with Justice officials. To determine whether these solicitations were announcing grant funding available for similar purposes, GAO first established 10 categories of criminal justice areas and then sorted the solicitations into each. GAO developed these 10 categories after reviewing comparable justice areas identified within OJP’s Crimesolutions.gov website, which OJP officials asserted also covers COPS Office and OVW programs; OJP’s Fiscal Year 2010 Program Plan; and other materials from the COPS Office and OVW, such as justice program themes from their respective websites.[1] After identifying solicitations with similar scopes, GAO reviewed a sample of successful grant applications that were awarded under the similar solicitations to identify and assess specific examples of how the recipients planned to use funds from multiple programs in the same or similar manner. The sample GAO reviewed is not generalizable to all Justice grant programs because GAO did not review all grant applications, including subgrants, but it provides evidence of the potential for unnecessary duplication. GAO also reviewed agency policies, procedures, and guidance on grant program design and award, such as the COPS Office Program Development Team charter and template, and the OJP Grant Managers Manual. Further, GAO interviewed Justice officials from the three granting agencies to obtain additional information on grant program design and award processes, and the extent to which the three agencies coordinate and share information.

GAO also visited or conducted phone interviews with officials from 11 states, including the five largest and five smallest state recipients of JAG funding.[2] These officials represent the state administering agencies responsible for distributing JAG and other Justice formula block grant funds to subrecipients in California, Florida, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming. These officials provided their views regarding the type and timeliness of information on grant awards and subawards they provide to and receive from Justice. GAO selected these 11 states based on the amount of JAG funding they receive and the existence of other recipients in their communities receiving Justice discretionary grants for potentially similar purposes. The results of these contacts are not generalizable to all states, but provide insight into how Justice grant funds are used locally and into the communication between states and Justice. Finally, GAO compared agency grant design and award practices against Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government and promising practices identified in the Domestic Working Group Grant Accountability Project’s Guide to Opportunities for Improving Grant Accountability. See page 343 of the PDF version of this report (appendix III) for a list of the programs GAO identified that may have similar or overlapping objectives, provide similar services or be fragmented across government missions. Overlap and fragmentation may not necessarily lead to actual duplication, and some degree of overlap and duplication may be justified.



[1]OJP reports that its Crimesolutions.gov website uses rigorous research to inform practitioners and policy makers about what works in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services. Though the categories on the website were not intended to categorize federal funding programs or exhaustively categorize every aspect of the criminal justice system, according to Justice officials, they do address the areas relevant to practitioners’ and researchers’ work.

[2]Illinois was among the top five highest state recipients of JAG funding. However, state officials did not respond to GAO inquiries. Therefore GAO substituted Pennsylvania, which was the sixth largest recipient. In addition, Tennessee was not within these two categories but provided additional insight.

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

 

GAO provided a draft of this report section to Justice for review and comment. Justice provided technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. In technical comments, Justice stated that using funding from multiple grant programs may be necessary to fully implement law enforcement projects in light of limited local and federal resources. GAO acknowledges that there may be cases where funding in this manner is warranted, but without an assessment of the extent of overlap across Justice grant programs, combined with consistent and routine grant award coordination, there is an increased risk of unnecessary duplication in grant awards.

For additional information about this area, contact David C. Maurer at (202) 512-9627, or maurerd@gao.gov.

 

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