Justice Grant Programs:

DOJ Should Do More to Reduce the Risk of Unnecessary Duplication and Enhance Program Assessment

GAO-12-517: Published: Jul 12, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) grant programs overlap across 10 justice areas contributing to the risk of unnecessarily duplicative grant awards for the same or similar purposes. For example, GAO reviewed all 253 grant award announcements that DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office published on their websites for fiscal year 2010 and found overlap across the justice areas. For example, 56 of DOJ’s 253 grant solicitations—or more than 20 percent—were providing grant funds for victim assistance and related research. GAO also found instances where applicants used the same or similar language to apply for funding from these overlapping programs. In one example, a grant recipient applied for, and received, funding from both OJP’s Internet Crimes Against Children program and the COPS Office’s Child Sexual Predator Program to provide training for cyber crime investigations and establish an Internet safety program. In some instances, DOJ may deem it appropriate for distinct grant programs to serve one goal, or for one community or grantee to benefit from multiple streams of grant funding. However, DOJ generally lacks visibility over the extent to which its grant programs overlap and thus is not positioned to minimize the risk of potential, unnecessary duplication before making grant awards.

DOJ has taken some actions that address overlap in its grant programs; for example, by requesting statutory authorization in some instances to consolidate programs that are similar. However, DOJ has not conducted an assessment of its grant programs to systematically identify and reduce overlap. Doing so would enable DOJ to identify program areas where overlap may be desirable and where a consolidation of programs may be more efficient. Further, OJP and OVW use a separate grants management system than the COPS Office uses, limiting their ability to share information on the funding they have awarded or are preparing to award to a recipient. According to COPS Office officials, its mission and grant management processes are unique enough to necessitate a separate system. However, OJP officials told GAO that its system has been and can be modified with minimal investment to accommodate different grant processes. DOJ has initiated a study to assess the feasibility, costs, and benefits of unifying the systems among other options. By ensuring that such a study accounts for the effort necessary to harmonize departmental grant processes, DOJ could ensure that variations in such processes do not encumber system unification.

DOJ’s Office of Audit, Assessment, and Management (OAAM) oversees monitoring of grantees’ compliance and conducts grant program assessments to gauge program effectiveness. GAO found that OAAM’s program assessments yield richer information than its monitoring reports because they identify improvement areas. OAAM officials believe additional assessments could be beneficial. They also said they lacked resources to conduct more, but had not conducted a feasibility analysis to confirm this. By OAAM examining its mix of monitoring and assessment activities, including the costs and benefits of current resource allocations, it could better ensure continuous improvement in grant programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since fiscal year 2005, approximately $33 billion has been appropriated to DOJ for the administration of more than 200 federal financial assistance solicitations, such as grants, that support criminal justice activities at the state and local levels. Pursuant to section 21 of Public Law 111-139, this report addresses the extent to which (1) overlap exists across DOJ grant programs and if it contributes to the risk of unnecessary duplication in grant awards, (2) DOJ has taken steps to reduce overlap and the potential for unnecessary duplication in its grants awards, and (3) DOJ uses monitoring and assessment to determine grant program effectiveness and uses the results to enhance its grant programs. GAO assessed DOJ’s fiscal year 2010 announcements of grant award funding; categorized them according to key justice areas to identify any overlap; and interviewed DOJ officials about their grant making practices, systems, and assessment methods. Further, GAO interviewed officials from 11 states receiving DOJ grants, selected for the levels and types of funding received. Though not generalizable, the interviews provided their perspectives on funding.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that the department assess its grant programs for overlap, ensure its comprehensive study of DOJ grant management systems also includes an analysis of steps necessary to harmonize business processes, and examine its mix of grant monitoring and program assessment activities. DOJ agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. In this update, DOJ stated that it is conducting a two-phase, DOJ-wide review to gain a better understanding of the extent to which DOJ grant programs overlap, and therefore have the potential for duplication, and to inform the Department's development of policies and procedures to mitigate the risks of unnecessary duplication in the future. DOJ completed phase one of the study to identify overlapping grant programs and providing its report to us in September 2014. DOJ also completed the second phase of its study to determine the extent of unnecessary duplication. DOJ stated that its report from this phase is currently undergoing management review, but did not provide an estimated release date for results. GAO will review the study and results once available to determine whether DOJ's actions are fully responsive to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should conduct an assessment to better understand the extent to which the department's 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 DOJ identifies any statutory obstacles to consolidating its grant programs, it should work with Congress to address them, as needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. In this update, DOJ stated that it has taken several steps to coordinate grants management and support functions among the DOJ granting agencies. For example, DOJ's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has made its existing data infrastructure available to allow all DOJ grant-making agencies to access DOJ-wide applications and grant-awarding data. Additionally, the DOJ-wide Grants Management Challenges Workgroup, comprising officials from all three of DOJ's granting agencies, continues to meet to share information and develop consistent practices and procedures in a wide variety of grant-administration and management areas. Finally, DOJ stated in its update that it will use results from the DOJ duplication study currently underway to further coordinate award and application processing. These actions represent positive steps in response to our recommendation. Once phase II of the two-phase DOJ duplication study is finalized, we will reassess the status of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should coordinate within and among granting agencies on a consistent basis to review potential or recent grant awards from grant programs that DOJ identifies as overlapping, including subgrant awards reported by prime grant awardees, to the extent possible, before awarding grants. DOJ should also take steps to establish written policies and procedures to govern this coordination and help ensure that it occurs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. According to this update, each of DOJ's three grant-making agencies has taken steps towards this requirement, but none of the three currently requires grant applicants to report all federal grant funding that they have applied for or received, as called for in the recommendation. As such, this recommendation remains open.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should require its grant applicants to report all federal grant funding, including all DOJ funding, that they are currently receiving or have recently applied for in their grant applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. According to this update, OJP and the COPS Office have jointly established a collaboration database hosted by OJP that supports user examination of grant applications and awards processed by OJP, OVW, and COPS Office for fiscal years 2010 - 2014. The database is updated at least daily for OJP and OVW data using OJP's Grant Management System as a source. The database is also updated monthly with COPS data from the COPS Grants Management Systems. These actions are fully responsive to our recommendation. GAO will close the recommendation once DOJ provides requisite documentation of these changes.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should provide appropriate OJP and COPS Office staff with access to both Grants Management System (GMS) and COPS Management System (CMS) and appropriate OVW staff with access to CMS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. According to this update, the DOJ grant-making agencies have completed a feasibility study to improve information and data-sharing among the grant-making agencies. The study focused on documenting each agency's grant-making business requirements and conducting case studies of alternatives for a shared grant-making system. Based on study results that found potential for greater collaboration, the granting agencies are examining several recommended solutions for a shared system, platform or system components, which will best meet requirements and budget constraints across all DOJ grant-making agencies. GAO will follow-up with DOJ at the end of fiscal year 2014 to check on the progress towards developing a shared solution in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should, as part of DOJ's evaluation of its grant management systems, ensure that it assesses the feasibility, costs, and benefits of moving to a single grants management system, including the steps needed to harmonize DOJ grant processes, so that any variation in how the granting agencies manage their portfolios is not an encumbrance to potential system unification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. In this update, OJP stated that it is committed to timely reporting of grant information to USASpending and officials told us that they have submitted all reports between September 2013 and July 2014 in accordance with existing guidelines for timeliness. Additionally, OJP continues to work with the Treasury Department and OMB to understand and implement new reporting requirements related to USASpending. These actions are fully responsive to our recommendation. GAO will close the recommendation once DOJ provides requisite documentation of these changes.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should ensure the most timely reporting possible of grant award information to USASpending.gov according to OMB guidelines, which would enable its grantees to comply with their reporting responsibilities according to the same guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. In this update, DOJ stated that OJP agrees that, based on results of previous assessments, additional program assessments could be beneficial and contribute to the improvement of grant programs and operations. With the Department's hiring freeze lifted as of February 2014, OAAM posted announcements to hire up to three analysts to support the Program Assessment Division. In September, 2014, DOJ shared with us the position announcements, which have since closed, and explained that they were in the process of hiring the individuals to fill these positions. This action is fully responsive to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should assess whether OAAM relies on an appropriate mix of programmatic grant monitoring and program assessment, and determine whether the office could support additional program assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2014, DOJ provided an update on this recommendation. According to this update, OAAM has begun an initial review of OVW's grant programs to determine which might be most appropriate for assessment in fiscal year 2015. This represents a positive step towards responding to our recommendation. We will follow-up towards the end of this fiscal year to obtain a copy of OAAM's fiscal year 2015 assessment plan.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOJ can identify overlapping grant programs to either consolidate or coordinate similar programs, mitigate the risk of unnecessary grant award duplication in its programs, and enhance DOJ's ability to gauge grant program effectiveness, the Attorney General should assess the feasibility, costs, and benefits of OAAM providing assessments for OVW, in addition to OJP and the COPS Office. If DOJ determines that OAAM assessments of OVW grant programs would be more cost-effective and provide greater insight into the effectiveness of OVW grant programs than OVW's current approach, then the Attorney General should extend OAAM's oversight to include OVW.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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