The federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration has threatened to withhold the District's $1.7 million funding request for this year because the city's spending plan was unsatisfactory and arrived seven months late, according to city officials involved with LEAA programs here.
Denial of the funds is "almost certain," said a member of the city's criminal justice coordinating board, which supervises LEAA grant programs. Another board member said rejection is "98 per cent sure."
At stake are programs for child abuse prevention, deterring juvenile delinquency, computers to expedite police responses and about 30 other projects.
"We have been notified informally that this year's funding may be in jeopardy (and) we were told that the regional office has some troubles with our submission," said Ben W. Gilbert, director of the D.C. Municipal Planning Office.
The office of criminal justice plans and analysis, which designed the spending plan, is in Gilbert's department.
An LEAA spokesman refused to comment on the submission, which he said was due last August and arrived Feb. 28. LEAA has 90 days to accept or reject the plan, he said.
"LEAA has given signs for a long time that (the criminal justice plans office) had better shape up", said an office staff member. "That plan coming in late is a joke throughout the country. It's a slap in the face to LEAA."
The District's difficulties with LEAA apparently result from weaknesses in the system that obtains and dispenses the federal grants. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher said yesterday he has conducted a "shake-up" to improve the system.
The criminal justice coordinating board, a panel of citizens and government officials who hand out grants and select projects, is chaired by Risher. But the criminal justice plans office, which does the board's staff work, answers to Gilbert.
Former planning staff members and board members say the office has been disrupted by dissension, disagreements with Gilbert over policy and a lack of leadership.
The board has been weighted with government officials who tend to support each other's agencies for grants, sources said. The board has also been troubled by poor attendance at meetings, the sources said.
A member of one of the board's advisory groups said the disagreements stem partly from flexibility in the use of LEAA money and fierce competition for the grants.
"It's a slush fund . . . a discretionary fund. Everybody wants to control it," he said.
An ex-staffer in the planning office said much of the trouble there had to do with its former director, Irving Wallach.
"The job was over his head. There was a lot of confusion and a lot of people quit in frustration," she said. She said she believes Wallach was hired because "Mr. Gilbert probably thought he was the man who would be persuaded by what Mr. Gilbert wanted."
Wallach has been replaced recently, and detailed to another District job. Gilbert said the departure was by mutual agreement with Wallach. Risher said it was he who "sought and received" Wallach's resignation.
In addition, Risher said he drafted an order that Mayor Walter E. Washington signed this week "giving me control over the staff."
The order also sets quarterly instead of monthly board meetings, to improve attendance, Gilbert said.
"We think this is going to be a much more effective management," Gilbert said. The board will handle "major issues of criminal justice policy," whereas it previously "spent most of the time on grants," Gilbert said. He said he fully approved the order giving authority to Risher, although the office remains technically in his division.
As to whether the changes will assure the city's getting this year's funding, Risher said "the next move is that of LEAA's. LEAA has not told me anything certain."