Investigating Justice

Today’s newspapers may be heading for the great bird cage in the sky by now, but it’s not too late to point out that the Washington Post ran a big piece this morning on investigating the Justice Department’s grantmaking, ahead of Waxman’s hearing. The article does a good job of summarizing the OJJDP scandal, and admirably cites Youth Today for breaking the story about the First Tee golf mentoring program. The piece also brings word that the Justice Department’s inspector general is looking into allegations of an improper hire on the part of OJJDP administrator J. Robert Flores. And OJJDP grants are not the only Justice Department disbursements that may be due for public scrutiny, either, as “members of Congress and watchdog groups are calling on investigators to expand their inquiry into the Byrne Grant program, the federal government’s primary effort to support local crime fighting across the nation.”

“Grant programs are a great tool for distributing federal funds, but only if the process is truly open, fair and competitive,” Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill told the paper. “Some bureaucrat cannot decide on a whim who gets precious tax dollars. It’s insulting to all the programs that work hard on their applications to have merit take a back seat to who you know.”

At stake is more than $150 million in Justice Department grants for fiscal year 2007. Says the Post:

One source said that staff members in the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which oversees the Byrne grants, last year plucked some applications from other categories in a rush to find enough recipients for grants that target violent crime. The winners were awarded Byrne grants and given extra financial incentives in the form of a 10 percent “information sharing enhancement,” according to an Aug. 27, 2007, memo by Domingo S. Herraiz, who leads the bureau.

Herraiz said in the “revised” funding recommendation memo that the unit had received 128 applications, 106 of which were “subsequently externally peer reviewed.”

One of the applications that did not undergo such review was a $296,168 award to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services for an anti-gang initiative in the city of Columbus, according to the documents….

Separately, POGO and Justice employees are raising questions about another award, in which the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio received $603,000 in Byrne crime prevention money for the “Ohio school alert system.” The Ohio chapter, which did not return phone calls for comment, supported Herraiz’s bid for the Justice Department job four years ago, according to sources familiar with the process.

There’s a common thread here connecting Flores’s grantmaking practices to those at the Bureau of Justice Assistance, both of which are patches on a grotesque quilt that also includes the US Attorneys scandal, the vote suppression campaign in the civil rights division, the Scooter Libby fiasco, the torture memos and so much more. In the Bush era, all justice is politics. The law is elsewhere.

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