Politics & Government

Watchdog finds flaws in Office of Violence Against Women grants

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department's inspector general Wednesday cited problems at the Office on Violence Against Women in managing $225 million in stimulus funding, saying that human error created miscues in the award selection process.

The report found that peer reviewers incorrectly calculated applicant's scores and those same individuals weren't properly screened for potential conflicts of interest before they were allowed to evaluate grant applications. The report found that office reports didn't always explain why some higher-scoring applicants didn't receive awards and that the office also misplaced documents.

"Although the OVW generally used a transparent and fair process to select Recovery Act recipients, our audit identified various weaknesses in how the OVW handled some discretionary grant applications," the report said.

The Office on Violence Against Women did not return a request for comment. The office, a component of the Department of Justice, was created to reduce violence against women.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's report found that 39 out of 76 tribal government applications were miscalculated, resulting in some proposals being incorrectly ranked higher. In at least two cases, applicants were rejected and those with the inflated rankings got the stimulus money.

The dollar amount of the misapplied grants was unavailable.

"Since such miscalculations affect discretionary award decisions, the OVW needs to institute better internal controls to check for errors in calculating scores and verify the score accuracy before ranking proposals based on peer review results."

The report listed five tribes — the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians in California, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe in Idaho and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Squaxin Island Tribe all of Washington — as receiving incorrect scores.

The report also found weaknesses in the method used to screen reviewers for conflicts of interest before allowing the reviews to evaluate and score applications.

"In at least 23 instances, peer reviewers signed and dated conflict of interest forms before the date they were assigned specific applications to review," the report said.

The inspectors however, could not identify specific cases where peer reviewers did have conflicts of interests, but said the office needs to "strengthen its conflict of interest procedures."

Of the $225 million provided by the Recovery Act, the Office on Violence Against Women has allocated $216 million for awards, leaving less than 1 percent of Recovery Act funds left to be awarded.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law in 2009 with the goal of creating new jobs, saving existing jobs, spurring economic activity and investments in long-term growth and foster accountability and transparency in the federal government. It made $275 billion available for federal contracts, grants and loans.


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