Oversight of DOJ Funds for Recreational Activities

GAO-10-661R: Published: Jun 18, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2010.

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Diana C. Maurer
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) awards an array of law enforcement and criminal justice grants to states, localities, and private and not-for-profit organizations to help prevent crime in their communities. From fiscal years 2008 through 2009, DOJ's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) awarded over 7,900 grants totaling over $4.2 billion. Some DOJ grant programs emphasize the prevention of crime and juvenile delinquency, and in some instances, DOJ's grant funds have been used, in part, to support recreational activities for youth involving various sports programs and field trips. In addition, DOJ grant recipients, such as a state's department of juvenile justice services, may provide grant funds to a subgrantee, like the Boys and Girls Club of America, to carry out various activities, such as mentoring or antigang initiatives, within the overall parameters of the grant program. However, no DOJ grant programs are designed to fund recreational activities exclusively. This letter responds to a congressional request to determine (1) the extent to which DOJ tracks grant funds spent on recreational activities, and how, if at all, DOJ assesses the impact of federally funded recreational activities on crime prevention and reduction; and (2) how much DOJ grant funding has been used to support recreational activities. As discussed with congressional staff in March 2010, DOJ does not maintain, and is not required to maintain, the information necessary to consistently determine (a) if recreational activities were funded through a DOJ grant program, and the impact of those activities, or (b) specific funding amounts used to support such activities. Such determinations would require a baseline definition of what a "recreational activity" would encompass, and a requirement and method for grant recipients to document the specific scope, nature, associated costs, and impact of each specific activity carried out under the grant. Absent this information from DOJ, we sought to independently identify and isolate recreational activities that were funded through various DOJ grant programs, but were unable to identify their scope, nature, cost, and impact due to various challenges. In particular, when reviewing selected grant recipients' program descriptions, we experienced difficulty distinguishing between the recreational and nonrecreational activities grant recipients implemented. Moreover, in cases where program descriptions identified activities that could be considered recreational in nature, we were consistently unable to determine the specific costs of these activities. Thus, as agreed with congressional staff in March 2010, given the limitations in available data on the nature and costs of grants awarded for recreational activities, this letter (1) elaborates on the extent to which DOJ gathers and maintains information on grant recipients recreational activities, and (2) discusses challenges and limitations we encountered in analyzing a sample of DOJ grant documents.

According to DOJ officials, grant recipients may use grant funding to support activities that could be considered recreational, where allowable under the terms of the grant. However, the department does not fund any grant programs that support recreational activities exclusively nor does it define or track "recreational activities" among the various initiatives that grant recipients are implementing to execute their overall grant program objectives. For example, DOJ officials explained that grant recipients may be funded to target activities toward a particular purpose, such as crime prevention. While executing its program, the grant recipient may decide that an after-school sports program might support its overall objectives. Although a sports program may be permissible under the grant, DOJ is not required to maintain information--nor does it require reporting by grant recipients--on specific expenditures for recreational activities or the outcomes associated with those activities. Instead, DOJ requires that grant recipients report in the aggregate about the effectiveness of their overall strategies. Specifically, while DOJ requires grant recipients to report on the degree to which certain performance metrics are met, these metrics are tied to the overall purpose of the grant program--crime prevention, for example--and do not drill down to detect the significance or effectiveness of each individual activity. For example, BJA's Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.) requires grant recipients to report outcome data to measure: (1) the increase in the number of school-aged children who graduate from G.R.E.A.T. over the prior year; and (2) the increase in the number of middle school youth who improve their positive perception of law enforcement over the prior year. Because DOJ does not require grant recipients to report on specific expenditures associated with particular activities, such as an after-school sports program, and because it does not maintain or monitor any data on recreational activities, department officials told us that their overall grant management system was not designed to capture either their contributions to the overall program's effectiveness or the individual costs of particular activities like an after-school sports program. As a result, DOJ is not positioned to determine how much money has been spent on recreational activities. DOJ officials told us that any funding grant recipients used for recreational activities that support the overall objectives of the grant program would likely be combined with other activities in their grant files, such that it would be challenging to separate out dollars spent on recreational activities from other funded activities.

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