Victims of Child Abuse Act:

Further Actions Needed to Ensure Timely Use of Grant Funds and Assess Grantee Performance

GAO-15-351: Published: Apr 29, 2015. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 2015.

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What GAO Found

For the 28 Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCA) grants the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) awarded from fiscal years 2010 through 2013, grantees expended less than 20 percent, on average, of each grant they received during the original 12-month project period. OJJDP has several administrative review and approval processes in place that have contributed to delays in grantees' ability to begin spending their funds. For instance, grantees cannot access their funds until OJJDP completes its internal review of grantees' budgets, a step that has taken more than 2 months, on average, after the project period began. Further, OJJDP's guidance on grant extensions is unclear and irregularly enforced. For example, one document states that generally only one extension per award is permissible, while another states that multiple extensions may be granted for up to a total of 5 years. OJJDP guidance further requires grantees to submit a narrative justification with their requests. However, OJJDP approved 72 of 73 extension requests from fiscal years 2010 through 2013 without such justification. Examining the delays associated with its administrative review processes and clarifying and enforcing the extension policy for VOCA grants would help OJJDP ensure the effective administration and timely use of grant funds.

Average Review Timeline for Selected Grant Requirements and Related Administrative Processes for VOCA Grants, Fiscal Years 2010-2013

Average Review Timeline for Selected Grant Requirements and Related Administrative Processes for VOCA Grants, Fiscal Years 2010-2013

aThe Assistant Attorney General for OJP is responsible for officially notifying applicants that they have received an award.

OJJDP does not have complete data to assess VOCA grantees' performance against the measures it has established. Specifically, OJJDP establishes performance measures in the VOCA grant solicitations and requires grantees to submit data on these measures. However, the performance measures it has established for the VOCA grant program do not fully align with the tools it has created to collect data for all OJJDP grants. Further, five of the six VOCA grantees reported that they have not received guidance on which measures to include in their required reports. Accordingly, grantees did not consistently report on the established performance measures as required. Better aligning the established VOCA performance measures with existing data collection tools and clarifying grantee reporting requirements would better ensure OJJDP has the data it needs to assess the effectiveness of the VOCA grant programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) OJJDP, housed within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), awarded about $74 million in VOCA grants from fiscal years 2010 through 2013. VOCA grants are designed to help improve the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. Senate Report 113-78 included a provision for GAO to conduct a review related to the administration of OJJDP grant programs.

This report addresses the extent to which OJJDP (1) ensures the timely expenditure of VOCA grants and (2) assesses the performance of VOCA grantees. GAO analyzed OJJDP documentation—such as program guidelines, grantee progress reports, and expenditure data—from fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Additionally, GAO interviewed DOJ officials and the universe of VOCA grantees about their experiences with the program.

What GAO Recommends

To ensure the effective administration of VOCA grant funds, GAO recommends, among other things, that OJP work with OJJDP to examine and address its administrative review processes to reduce delays in VOCA spending, establish and enforce a clear grant extension policy, and better align the VOCA performance measures with available data collection tools while also clarifying grantee reporting requirements. OJP concurred with our 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 April 2015, we found that OJJDP had several administrative review and approval processes in place that had contributed to delays in grantees' ability to begin spending their award funds. For instance, grantees could not access their funds until OJJDP had completed its internal review of grantees' budgets--a step that had taken more than 2 months, on average, after the grantees' project period had begun. We recommended that OJP examine its processes and, if appropriate, make modifications to prevent unnecessary delays in grantees' ability to expend VOCA funds within the established project period. In March 2017, OJP reported that its Office of Audit, Assessment and Management (OAAM), worked with OJJDP to complete an assessment to determine the impact of administrative processes on VOCA awards. Focusing on VOCA grants awarded in fiscal years 2010 through 2015, OAAM assessed a number of factors, including (1) the average timeframe for approval of budget reviews; (2) the average timeframe for approval of conference cost requests, and (3) the number of no-cost extensions granted. OJP reported that OAAM continues to work with OJJDP to review documentation to support implementation of process improvements to address the issues the assessment identified. OAAM anticipates issuing a report by March 31, 2017 to OJP's Acting Assistant Attorney General to summarize the results of the assessment and provide updates on the process improvements OJJDP has begun to implement. Examining the delays associated with its administrative review processes and making modifications as necessary will help OJP ensure the effective administration and timely use of grant funds.

    Recommendation: To ensure the timely expenditure of VOCA grant funds and thereby limit the carryover of unexpended grant balances, minimize the need for multiple grant extensions, and strengthen OJJDP's capacity to collect and assess grantee performance information, the Assistant Attorney General for OJP should work with the Administrator of OJJDP to conduct a study to examine whether any of its administrative processes contribute to unnecessary delays in grantees' ability to expend VOCA funds within the established 12-month project period and make modifications to these processes as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2015, we found that VOCA grant activities were not being completed within the time parameters OJJDP established for the grant program, and that this may affect the ability of grantees to complete their grant goals and objectives. Specifically, we found that for the 28 VOCA grants that OJJDP awarded from fiscal years 2010 through 2013, grantees had expended less than 20 percent, on average, of each grant they received during the original 12-month project period. In particular, we found that OJJDP's processes for reviewing grantees' budgets and conference planning requests were contributing to delays in grantees' ability to begin spending their funds. We recommended that OJP examine whether 12 months is an appropriate project period length to ensure that VOCA grantees are well positioned to fully expend their grant funds. In March 2017, OJP reported that its Office of Audit, Assessment and Management (OAAM), worked with OJJDP to complete an assessment to determine the impact of administrative processes on VOCA awards. Focusing on VOCA grants awarded in fiscal years 2010 through 2015, OAAM assessed a number of factors, including (1) the average timeframe for approval of budget reviews; (2) the average timeframe for approval of conference cost requests, and (3) the number of no-cost extensions granted. OJP reported that OAAM continues to work with OJJDP to review documentation to support implementation of process improvements to address the issues the assessment identified. OAAM anticipates issuing a report by March 31, 2017 to OJP's Acting Assistant Attorney General to summarize the results of the assessment and provide updates on the process improvements OJJDP has begun to implement. Once OJJDP examines its administrative delays, makes any necessary changes, and reviews the original project period length, OJP will be better positioned to ensure that grantees have an appropriate period in which to expend VOCA grant awards.

    Recommendation: To ensure the timely expenditure of VOCA grant funds and thereby limit the carryover of unexpended grant balances, minimize the need for multiple grant extensions, and strengthen OJJDP's capacity to collect and assess grantee performance information, the Assistant Attorney General for OJP should work with the Administrator of OJJDP to, considering the results of this study, examine whether the current 12-month project period is realistic in light of any administrative processes that cause delay but cannot be modified and extend the project period if necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP) guidance on grant extensions was unclear and irregularly enforced for its Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCA) grant program. For example, one document stated that generally only one extension per award is permissible, while another stated that multiple extensions may be granted for up to a total of 5 years. OJJDP guidance further required grantees to submit a narrative justification with their requests; however, OJJDP approved 72 of 73 extension requests from fiscal years 2010 through 2013 without such justification. As a result, we recommended that OJP establish and enforce clear requirements for approving no-cost grant extensions. In June 2015, OJP updated the DOJ Grants Financial Guide to include guidance regarding criteria for grant award extensions. Additionally, in August 2015, OJP provided the detailed requirements, in advance, related to grant extensions to all VOCA grantees whose grants were nearing the end of their term. Further in December 2015, OJP included guidance regarding criteria for award extensions in its Grants Management Manual to align with the guidance in the DOJ Financial Guide. This information included guidance on the number of no cost extensions, the allowable length of no cost extensions, and details on the justification needed to go beyond these restrictions. In March 2016, OJP conducted a staff meeting with grant managers, in part, to further clarify guidance regarding no-cost extensions. These efforts are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure the timely expenditure of VOCA grant funds and thereby limit the carryover of unexpended grant balances, minimize the need for multiple grant extensions, and strengthen OJJDP's capacity to collect and assess grantee performance information, the Assistant Attorney General for OJP should work with the Administrator of OJJDP to establish and enforce clear requirements for approving no-cost grant extensions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2015, we found that OJJDP did not have the data necessary to assess VOCA grantees' performance because the measures it had established to assess performance did not fully align with the tools it had created to collect this information from grantees. We recommended that OJP ensure that the performance measures outlined in OJJDP's VOCA grant solicitations correspond to existing measures in its Data Collection and Technical Assistance Tool (DCTAT) and clarify to VOCA grantees that they are to report on such measures using the DCTAT system. If existing DCTAT measures do not provide ample coverage for the specific measures that the VOCA program wishes to collect when posting the solicitation, then we also recommended that OJP ensure that the VOCA program provides clear, written instruction requiring VOCA grantees to use their semiannual progress reports for reporting on the specific performance measures that the solicitation outlines that are not available in the DCTAT system. In response, in July 2015, OJP reported that OJJDP would provide training to existing VOCA grantees on the collection and reporting of performance measurement data by July 31, 2015, and that OJJDP would train new VOCA grantees within the first year of receiving funding. In addition, OJP noted that OJJDP would conduct an extensive review of the performance measures in the fiscal year 2015 VOCA solicitations and would update the DCTAT system to include these performance measures for grantee submission, by December 31, 2015. In March 2016, OJP reported that OJJDP was developing training materials for staff and working with its contractor to ensure necessary changes were made to the DCTAT system, and that both the training and the changes would be in place by July 2016. In early July 2016, OJP provided documentation that OJJDP had updated its measures, revised DCTAT accordingly, and delivered the training to grantees. As a result of improvements to its performance measurement capacity, OJP is now better positioned to ensure that VOCA grant funds are being used effectively to support improvements in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse.

    Recommendation: To ensure the timely expenditure of VOCA grant funds and thereby limit the carryover of unexpended grant balances, minimize the need for multiple grant extensions, and strengthen OJJDP's capacity to collect and assess grantee performance information, the Assistant Attorney General for OJP should work with the Administrator of OJJDP to ensure that the performance measures outlined in its VOCA grant solicitations correspond to existing Data Collection and Technical Assistance Tool (DCTAT) measures and clarify to VOCA grantees that they are to report on such measures using the DCTAT system. If existing DCTAT measures do not provide ample coverage for the specific measures that the VOCA program wishes to collect when posting the solicitation, then the Administrator should ensure that the VOCA program provides clear, written instruction requiring VOCA grantees to use their semiannual progress reports for reporting on the specific performance measures that the solicitation outlines that are not available in the DCTAT system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Office of the Assistant Attorney General

 

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