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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National League of Cities
Congressional City Conference
Washington, DC
March 17, 2009

Thank you, Mayor Gillette. It's a pleasure to be here.

I'm delighted to join Tim and Chuck in addressing the NLC and to talk about what we're doing to help cities address public safety. I know you've been struggling on many fronts to deal with the fall-out from the economic crisis, public safety being one of the most serious. But I think there's room for optimism, and even a little excitement. We have the Recovery Act, which I'll talk about in detail in a moment. It makes substantial resources available to help you fight crime. And we have a President, a Vice President, and an Attorney General - and I know you heard this from him yesterday - who are committed to working as partners with you to support communities in their public safety efforts.

As you may know, President Obama and Attorney General Holder travelled to Columbus, Ohio, a little over a week ago to announce the funding from the Recovery Act that would address criminal and juvenile justice efforts. You may recall from his speech there that the city was on the verge of laying off 25 police recruits because of budget shortages. But the money from the Recovery Act saved the police cadets' jobs.

On the same day, March 6, I had the privilege of joining Vice President Biden in Florida to make a companion announcement at the Miami Police Department. The money that both the President and the Vice President announced will help retain personnel, and it will allow law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to address the public safety concerns that have been heightened by the economic downturn.

So in spite of the bad economic news, I think there is every reason to be hopeful about our ability to tackle crime in our cities.

As Chuck and his staff have shown us, these problems are real and they are very serious. Fortunately, I think, we have in Eric Holder an Attorney General who understands these problems. He's been on the front lines as a local prosecutor. He served as a local superior court judge in D.C. He's seen how crime affects cities, and he knows how challenging these problems are. He understands that law enforcement agencies, prosecutors' offices, juvenile justice professionals, and victim service providers need resources, and he will do everything he can to make sure that they have those resources.

As he made clear in his remarks to you yesterday, the Attorney General believes that city officials are our front-line partners, and he understands that partnership with the federal government means backing your efforts with federal resources. This is a departure from the last eight years. There truly is a new era at the U.S. Department of Justice.

This commitment to partnership is reflected in the Recovery Act.

As you may know, the Recovery Act makes $4 billion available to the Justice Department to support criminal justice efforts. $2.7 billion of that money will be administered by the Office of Justice Programs in seven areas. You may already be familiar with how that money breaks down, but I'll just take a moment to run through it.

First, the lion's share of the money - $2 billion - will be available to cities, other local governments, and states through the Byrne JAG formula grant program. As you probably know, these funds are intended to support a wide range of criminal and juvenile justice activities - everything from drug and gang task forces, to courts and corrections, to treatment, prevention, and victim services.

These funds can be used for many of the priorities that NLC identified in its "Agenda for the Nation" and its "National Municipal Policy," like youth-oriented crime, alternatives to incarceration, DNA collection and analysis, and substance abuse treatment. The solicitations for both the local and the state Byrne JAG programs, as well as the local and state funding allocations, are posted on our Web site - www.ojp.gov/recovery.

Just a note on the formula - 40 percent of this funding is allocated for cities and local governments, which means that they can apply directly to OJP. The deadline for applications from local governments is May 18th. The remaining 60 percent is allocated to the states, but cities will be able to apply to the states for that funding. Just to give you a sense of the timeframe, state applications are due April 9th.

Second, an additional $225 million is allocated for the Byrne Competitive Grants Program, which means that cities, local law enforcement agencies, and others can compete directly for those funds. We'll be looking at programs that promote hiring and that are evidence-based. We'll also have an emphasis on community prevention and such things as neighborhood-based probation and parole, forensics, mortgage fraud, victim assistance, and problem-solving courts.

As I mentioned before, our priority areas mirror those that NLC outlined in its Agenda for the Nation and its National Municipal Policy. We share your philosophy that the best way to fight crime in cities and communities is to support bottom-up solutions and encourage local innovation.

Third, there's another $125 million to help law enforcement agencies in rural areas fight crime, particularly drug-related crime. And we'll give priority to those applicants that are not eligible to receive a direct JAG allocation.

Fourth, $40 million is set aside for law enforcement agencies along the southern border and in High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat narcotics trafficking. This is in response to the concerns regarding Mexican drug activities over the border. $10 million of that will go to ATF.

Fifth, $50 million is allocated for the Internet Crimes Against Children Program, which supports efforts to address cyber enticement and child pornography cases. As many of you know, ICAC task forces are partnerships among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is administering this program.

Sixth, $225 million is set aside for the construction of tribal corrections facilities.

And finally, $100 million is available for victim assistance and victim compensation programs, and for victim-centered training, technical assistance, and demonstration projects. Municipal and local programs can apply directly for the $5 million available for demonstration and training programs. The other $95 million in formula dollars will go to states for victim assistance and compensation programs and services, which will ultimately benefit local programs and local residents.

As you can see, the Recovery Act makes substantial resources available to communities, including - importantly - funds to aid in the retention of criminal justice personnel. And it's important to note that, with the exception of the tribal construction grants, no match is required for these programs.

So, now we have all this money to administer. Naturally, I'm sure your next question is, "When can we expect to see it?" We estimate that some 12,000 additional grants are possible as a result of the Recovery Act. We've gotten a lot of questions about whether OJP is able to handle this extra load.

Let me say this, first of all: Having served as Assistant Attorney General for OJP during the Crime Bill era, I can assure you that OJP has the means and the experience to move a lot of money quickly and with the necessary controls in place to ensure it's used effectively. We're very serious about delivering on this Administration's promise of timely, targeted, and transparent funding.

I was also impressed, when I came back to OJP, at the level of preparation that had already been put into place when I arrived. OJP had established a high-level working group to plan for the distribution of any stimulus funds, and we worked to refine our strategy as the bill moved forward in Congress. So OJP has been poised to move these funds.

So what does that mean in terms of timing?

Getting this money out is our highest priority, and we're moving quickly. We've already posted synopses of all solicitations - formula and discretionary. We've also posted full program announcements for formula grant programs. I mentioned the Byrne JAG announcements earlier. We've also posted the victim assistance and victim compensation solicitations (applications for which are due from the states by March 20th), and we've posted the Internet Crimes Against Children solicitation (which calls for applications by April 8th). Full announcements for all programs - including discretionary programs - will be posted soon.

Solicitations will be posted for 30 to 60 days. And by the way, we're encouraging applicants to apply through the Grant Management System on our Web site instead of using Grants.gov. This will help ensure against any technical glitches that may come about as a result of overload of the Grants.gov Web site.

As we receive applications, we will begin making formula awards on a rolling basis within 15 days. And we plan to begin awarding the discretionary grants in late April.

Since the timelines are pretty tight, outreach is very important to ensuring that potential applicants are prepared - that they know about the funding that's available and the process for applying. We've been in close touch with localities and states, and national groups like NLC. Our Web site directs visitors to our own Recovery Act page, which has links to solicitations and information on how to apply.

We'll need your help with this. We're asking that you spread the word to cities about these resources and help connect potential applicants to the assistance they need to apply. We want to make sure that no one's left out.

The other element of all this - and I'll just touch on this briefly - is transparency. As award recipients and amounts are determined, and as we get information about grants, we'll post all that on Recovery.Gov, where you can see exactly where the money goes and how it's used. And tied to that - we're going to be held highly accountable for Recovery Act funding, which in turn means that grants will be monitored very closely and performance measures taken very seriously.

So we've got our work cut out for us, but we're very excited - both for what this funding means for cities and communities, and for the innovation in criminal justice it can bring.

Just a quick word in conclusion on the 2010 budget. The President's budget proposal for 2010 includes a three-and-a-half percent increase over 2009. In terms of OJP, the most prominent budget item is for offender reentry, which we know is a priority for NLC. A total of $109 million is set aside for reentry programs, $75 million of which would come to OJP for Second Chance Act programs.

We're currently soliciting applications under FY '09 for reentry demonstration projects under the Second Chance Act. Cities, counties, local governments, states, and tribes are eligible to apply. That solicitation is open until April 20th. I encourage you to visit our Web site for more information.

We look forward to being able to work with city officials to see that the programs authorized by the Second Chance Act do what they are intended to do - to help offenders successfully reintegrate into their communities.

We don't yet have all our final numbers for the President's 2010 request, but we do know that they will reflect the Administration's full commitment to supporting local and state criminal justice efforts. The next phase of the process will be the agency detail review, and we anticipate those details will be sent to Congress the week of April 20th.

President Obama also signed the '09 omnibus appropriations bill last Wednesday. That bill includes more than $1.3 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance, including $546 million for Byrne JAG. More to come on that, as well.

I want to close by reiterating that the Department of Justice and the Office of Justice Programs are very committed to working with you in every way we can as partners in addressing public safety. I've been in this business a long time. Things are tough right now, but it's great to see the federal government exercising such strong interest and leadership from the very top. It gives me optimism.

So thank you for the work you're doing on behalf of public safety in your jurisdictions, and I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

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