By SP Biloxi
I decided to followup into any changes within the OJJDP department (part of the Department of Justice) from the OJJDP grant scandal which lead to investigation and congressional hearings six years ago. OJJDP stands for Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Six years ago, OJJDP Program Manager, whistleblower, and now CEO of Global Youth Justice Scott Peterson blew the whistle on his now former boss J. Robert Flores of waste, cronyism, and fraud in the OJJDP grant procedures. Flores was accused of awarding grants to organizations that didn’t score as high in merit for political purposes and not awarding grants to organizations that had high scores. Here is the YouTube video of the OJJDP scandal reported by Brian Ross on ABC Nightline:
As of today, there is still work to do in the OJJDP department. In Juvenile Justice Information Exchange website in an article in April, there is a lack of transparency existed for all federal grants to show a fairness in competition:
A 2012 Congressional Research Service report also noted that this lack of transparency existed for all federal grants and even noted that some of the factors used in formula grants are not publicly available either.
“Without greater transparency into these processes, it is difficult for Congress to measure the effectiveness of federal grant allocation formulas or to determine whether there has been fair competition in the awarding of federal grants,” the report said.
A member of Congress introduced a bill last year to change the way of disclosing grants. Yet, the bill has been brought up to Congress to vote and doesn’t address certain aspects the grant procedures:
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, (R-Okla.), hopes to change the way grants are currently disclosed. Last fall he introduced the Grant Reform and New Transparency Act of 2013 or GRANT Act, which calls for agencies to post information about each grant opportunity, a copy of a successful grant abstract or application, award decisions including rankings and the name or a unique identifier of peer reviewers, and a final performance report at the end of the grant.
The bill would protect national security and some proprietary information by not requiring agencies to post information that would otherwise be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, Lankford’s office says.
Under the proposal, agencies will also be required to screen potential grantees to ensure they’re capable of performing the grant. The bill also offers those that lost out on grants valued at more than $100,000 the chance to request a debriefing with the agency, which the agency must provide.
The bill doesn’t address invited awards, which are still very much a part of the OJJDP grant process. In 2013 alone, the agency awarded about $106 million through invited grants, according to a recent JJIE report. Lankford said he wasn’t aware of invited awards, but said it didn’t sound fair.
“This is a competitive merit-based process and we want that criteria to be clearly known in advance,” Lankford says. “The bill provides everyone with the opportunity to know how their federal tax dollars are being used.”
The aim is to help groups that are doing well but can’t seem to break into and be successful at the grant process to learn why they failed and how they can do better next time, Lankford says. And it will also shed light on the very small group of well-connected people that get grants all the time, he adds.
The bill was amended and approved by the House Oversight Committee to add some protections for peer reviewers and intellectual property issues, Lankford says. The congressman introduced a similar bill in the last legislative session but it never got to a House vote. At that time, it faced opposition from academic groups concerned that it could jeopardize intellectual property rights and reveal proprietary information. They also objected to revealing names or unique identifiers of peer reviewers as many research areas have a small pool of potential reviewers that can be easily identified.
So far, his bill is still very much alive, Lankford says, adding that he’s gotten bipartisan support for it and it’s awaiting a House vote.
I asked Scott Peterson for a response to lack of transparency of the OJJDP grant procedures. His email response today to me: “Release the scores and rankings for non-competitive federal grants !!!!” We only hope that will happen.