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What are the feds doing anyhow?

Written by Gary Cooper

As far as law enforcement and public safety grants are concerned, last year was a pip. Monies from the Stimulus legislation and from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill dramatically increased U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) grant funding and sustained a healthy U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant funding program. Monies from grant programs funded by these appropriations are beginning to hit the street and thoughts are already turning to the future. What’s the funding picture for FY 2010 going to look like? What impact will our country’s economic woes have on grant funding programs next year? Have these politically charged times changed the approach the Federal Government will take to provide state and local justice and public safety grant assistance? So, what are the feds doing anyhow?

At this point in time, potential FY 2010 DOJ and DHS state and local grant appropriations look a lot like FY 2009 and FY 2008 appropriations once grant funding from the FY 2009 Stimulus Bill is factored out. This is certainly the case when looking at those grant programs that can be used for procuring information, identification and communications technologies. At the time this article was written, Congress had not yet returned from its August break and had not concluded its appropriations efforts.

The House of Representatives has passed appropriations bills for the DHS and the DOJ. The Senate has passed an appropriations bill for DHS, but it hasn’t for the DOJ. The DOJ appropriation (contained in the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010) has passed unanimously out of the full Senate Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been acted upon by the full Senate. Rumor has it that the Senate plans to move the bill quickly to the floor after the August break.

The next step would be to conference the bill with the House. Past practice indicates that chances are great the full Senate will pass a version of the bill that is identical or nearly identical to the Committee’s bill. The potential is there for the Congress to conclude its appropriations responsibilities on time and begin the new federal fiscal year with a budget in place. While no schedule has been posted yet, the Democratic leadership has previously expressed its intention to complete the appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year.

At least publicly, no plans have been discussed for a continuing resolution or an omnibus appropriations bill (the action taken last year). Having said that, this is the U.S. Congress, and its record with making on-time appropriations is abysmal. Nonetheless, based upon the considerable work that the Congress has done thus far, indicators form a pretty clear picture of FY 2010 grant funding.

DOJ and DHS Grants

A review of the myriad grant programs (approximately 100 distinct programs) administered by DOJ and DHS shows grant dollar totals to be at levels amazingly consistent with FY 2008 and FY 2009 levels. The COPS hiring program stands out because of significant growth.

A review of Table 1 reveals that the totals of the more than 15 programs tracked in this column are also consistent with the funding levels of the past two years. These programs totaled $4.1B in 2008, $4.4 billion in 2009, and an average of the House and Senate bills for 2010 totals $4.35 billion. Also, the DOJ grant programs continue to receive funding at about one-fourth of the level of that received by the DHS. At first blush, the DHS and the DOJ grant funding totals in the Obama era look pretty much like those in the Bush era.

Table 2 and Table 3 illuminate the positive impact that the Stimulus bill had in support of balancing the DOJ and the DHS overall funding levels (giving $2.5 billion for DOJ versus $0.5 billion for DHS) and, consequently, how much it will be missed by the criminal justice community this coming year.

Table 2 shows that the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), which is the oldest and largest of DOJ’s state and local justice assistance programs, has rebounded from the funding hiccup experienced in FY 2008 when it took a 66% hit. JAG appears to not only have Congressional support but also the support of the Administration reflected in its Budget Request of $519 million. Table 2 also shows that the Rural Law Enforcement and the Internet Crimes Against Children grant programs appear to be one-hit wonders funded under the Stimulus bill, but not carried over in the FY 2010 appropriations.

However, while the Byrne JAG, the Byrne Competitive and the Indian Country grant programs will continue to move forward, they will do so without the outstanding support they had in FY 2009 Stimulus bill. Table 3 shows that the DHS state and local grant programs were not big beneficiaries of Stimulus monies and therefore are not negatively affected by their absence in FY 2010. DHS grant funding is very consistent with funding in previous years and shows some growth for the fire grants.

Tables 2 and 3 also show that the Administration and the Congress, with some exceptions (the President did not request funding for programs that historically have been earmarked), are in sync regarding what programs should be funded and at what level. In some cases, the Congress appears set to appropriate at levels somewhat greater than the President’s request.

Earmarks

While it was great fodder for political debate by Democrats and Republicans during the presidential campaign, earmarking appears to be alive and well in the DOJ appropriations bill, and earmarks are now appearing in the DHS appropriations bill. The House has included 722 earmarks in the COPS Law Enforcement Technology and Interoperability grant program and the Byrne Discretionary grant program combined, and also included 167 earmarks in the DHS bill. Those same programs on the Senate side have 324 and 23 earmarks respectively. The House wins the contest for most earmarks while the Senate comes in first for larger individual earmarks. This discussion does not include the myriad earmarks contained in the COPS Methamphetamine grant program, nor in the juvenile justice grant programs administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Interestingly, the House DHS bill contains six “Presidentially Directed Spending Items,” otherwise known as earmarks. So, will there be a veto of the bills including earmarks as discussed in the campaign? Duh!

The report accompanying the House CJS bill contains a paragraph authored by the House Appropriations Committee and set out within a broader description of the Byrne JAG grant program that could prove very significant.

The report states, “The Committee believes that JAG funding should be targeted by State and local governments to programs and activities that are in conformance with a state-wide, evidenced-based strategic plan developed through broad stakeholder involvement. The Committee strongly urges State Administering Agencies (SAAs) to develop or update existing statewide plans as soon as practicable and to submit those plans to the Attorney General for review. The Attorney General shall work with states to complete such plans as soon as reasonable and shall make technical assistance available to assist states in constructing such plans.”

This planning process harkens all the way back to the days (late 1960s) of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (precursor to the current Office of Justice Programs) that administered the first justice and public safety grant programs. Statewide and national planning was the keystone of that program and focused how the monies were used. The planning process brought all elements of the justice system to the table and established centralized state planning. It will be more than interesting to see if this provision has “legs.” The impact could be substantial.

State and Local Governments

To date, the state and local justice and public safety assistance grant programs have fared well through a change in administrations and in a very uncertain world. The most senior federal governmental officials propose dramatic national programs that will cost enormous sums of monies, but those proposals are not focused on crime. So, crime as a domestic public policy issue is very low on the most visible priority lists. While federal spending is at historic highs, state and local governments and their criminal justice agencies are running very low on money. Layoffs are taking place nationally. According to The Washington Post, the stimulus monies have proved extremely helpful to the states and localities by reducing the extent of the use of furloughs and layoffs.

The Washington Post says, “The good news is that much of the pain this year has been cushioned by the billions of dollars of federal stimulus money, which has allowed state and localities to avoid laying off teachers, prison guards, police officers and firefighters. The bad news is that for the next fiscal year, beginning in July, the picture looks even bleaker. Revenue is expected to remain depressed, even if the national economy improves. There will be only half as much federal stimulus aid available, and many states have already used up their emergency reserves.”

Unemployment is high and crime rates tend to rise with high unemployment. Money is going to get tighter. Justice agencies are laying off employees. According to a recent Vera Institute survey, 26 states are slashing spending on prisons and saving money in a variety of ways including laying off workers and reducing prison populations. California is now under federal court order to release more than 30,000 inmates. So, the formula for crisis is here: less money, rising crime rates, early release of prison inmates, and fewer justice personnel. The significance of the DOJ and DHS grant programs looms large in FY 2011. The grant programs for FY 2010 appear to be in the can. Just around the corner is FY 2011 and it appears to be very scary.

Gary R. Cooper is a Partner at CJIS GROUP. CJIS GROUP is a market intelligence organization currently focused solely on state and local justice and public safety agencies procuring and employing information and identification technologies to improve the administration of justice and support the war on terror. He can be reached at gary@cjisgroup.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2009

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