Audit of Justice Grants Faults Management

An new watchdog report on grant programs run by the Justice Department shows that hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for law enforcement have been tied up by lax management.

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LUKE BURBANK: A new watchdog report says state and local law enforcers have missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars from the justice department The report says the problem is the way the department has been handling the grants NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: The justice department gives away billions of dollars in grants every year The money goes to a whole range of law enforcement projects across the country - body armor, mental health court, substance abuse counseling, domestic violence programs - you name it When a grant expires, justice department employees are supposed to do a final wrap up Part of that closure process involves accounting for any left over money Glenn Fine is the Justice Department's inspector general.

Mr. GLENN FINE (Inspector General, Justice Department): If the money is unused, it can be given out in additional grants However, if the grant is not closed, the money just sits on the books and cannot be used for the intended purposes for which the grants are made.

SHAPIRO: According to an audit that Fine's office has just completed, the vast majority of Justice Department grants were closed out late, if ever Only 13 percent were closed out within six months of the grant's end date As a result Fine says, hundreds of millions of dollars sat unused Fine says the justice department must do better.

Mr. FINE: The Department of Justice and it's grant giving entities should monitor their grants, should ensure that they're used for their proper purposes, and should insure that they're closed in a timely fashion.

SHAPIRO: This report comes as lawmakers and law enforcement officials complain about cuts in grants for state and local crime fighting Lori Robinson used to run the Office of Justice Programs, under the Clinton administration That's the office that administers many of the grants.

Ms. LORI ROBINSON (Formerly of the Office of Justice): Here we have rising violent crime around the country and insufficient focus on the one agency in the department of justice that is a partner with state and local law enforcement in addressing violent crime They need help.

SHAPIRO: Justice Department spokesman Evan Peterson said in a written statement, we agree that good government grant administration requires prompt and appropriate closure of outstanding grants. But he noted that according to the inspector general's report, the Justice Department is doing better than it used to, and he said the Justice Department believes the inspector general has misinterpreted the rules that say when grants expire As inspector general Fine points out, this is not the first time his office has raised concerns about grant administration.

Mr. FINE: In fact we have made grant management a top management challenge for the last six years We have done a number of audits which have analyzed the department's oversight over its grants, and we have pointed out deficiencies in areas in need of improvement for a significant number of years.

SHAPIRO: Fine says, although the department has improved, the backlog of unclosed grants is still extremely large and very significant Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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