Audit: Agency Grants Had Lax Oversight

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 6:49 PM

WASHINGTON -- Lax oversight of federal law enforcement grants tied up hundreds of millions of dollars for eight years and potentially shortchanged state and local crime-fighting programs, a Justice Department audit found Wednesday.

The report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that leftover money from thousands of expired grants between October 1997 and December 2005 sat unused because officials failed to keep close track of the programs once they ended.

If the offices had dealt with expired grants in a timely fashion, "hundreds of millions of dollars in questioned costs could have been used to provide the DOJ with additional resources to fund other programs or returned to the federal government's general fund," the audit concluded.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse disputed the bulk of the audit's findings and said that Congress last year took back $125 million in unused money from expired grants. He said Fine's office mistakenly interpreted regulations that govern the grant programs that, if followed, would deprive state, local and tribal authorities of funding.

At issue is the way three Justice Department offices manage grants for state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. Fine's office has repeatedly raised what it termed serious concerns with the department's oversight of the grants for community policing, prosecuting crimes against women, and others awarded by the Office of Justice Programs.

The audit looked at nearly 61,000 grants, worth $25 billion, that expired during the eight-year period. Among its findings:

_Only 13 percent of the grants were officially closed _ meaning that any administrative, compliance, legal, and audit issues were resolved _ within required timeframes after the programs expired. More than 8,000 grants had yet to be closed two years after their expiration date.

_The department gave 129 grants, worth $106 million, to authorities that ultimately did not comply with program requirements, including reporting back how the money was being used.

_The government improperly paid $554 million to programs after the grants expired.

_An estimated $172 million in unused funding had not been redirected to other programs or returned to the Treasury within required timeframes.

In all, the delays tied up more than $726 million that could have been spent elsewhere, the audit concluded.

Justice Department officials in the three offices that managed the grants acknowledged the problems and generally agreed with most of the recommendations to fix them. But they said, in at least some cases, the delays were caused by state and local authorities who asked for more time to carry out the grants.

In a letter responding to the report, the Office of Justice Programs denied suggestions that it allows grant money to be spent on unauthorized projects. "It has not, and has never been OJP's practice to allow grantees to draw down any funds for unsupported expenditures," the letter said.


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