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

Department of Justice Convening of Philanthropic Funders
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Washington, DC

        Good morning everyone.

        I want to welcome you all to the Department of Justice and the Office of Justice Programs.

        It's a pleasure to have you all here, and I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules – and your busy lives – to be here.

        Before I begin, I'd like to acknowledge my colleagues Mary Lou Leary and Beth McGarry, the two Deputy Assistant Attorneys General here at OJP. I thank them both for being here.

        I'd also like to thank my friend and advisor, Marlene Beckman, and Anna Johnson from our Office of Communications, both of whom have done a fantastic job of pulling this meeting together. Thank you Marlene and Anna for all your hard work.

        Finally, I'd like to recognize the managers and staff of OJP who are joining us today. I'm glad that they could be here.

        This is a meeting that I think is long overdue.

        I spent seven years as OJP's Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno back in the 90s, and one of the things I wished that I had been able to do then was to get together the foundations that are involved in criminal and juvenile justice issues.

        So when the Attorney General called and asked me to return to OJP for what I thought would be a short stay, I said to Marlene, "we've got to have that meeting with foundations. Let's make a plan."

        So we've been working for some time to make this happen.

        As you know, these things don't happen overnight, and ironically, my official nomination as Assistant Attorney General goes up to the Hill this week. In fact, it was originally scheduled to go up yesterday, and that would have precluded me from speaking to any outside groups. But I felt this meeting was too important to miss, and so I persuaded the White House to hold off sending my nomination forward until tomorrow so that I could be here.

        This is really an historic gathering. We have more than 50 groups represented here. So this is, to my knowledge, the largest-ever gathering of foundations involved in public safety, juvenile justice, and crime-related issues.

        But this meeting is important, not just because it's the first of its kind, but because it's a tremendous opportunity to explore how we can make good on this idea of public/private partnership.

        Unfortunately, public/private partnership has come to be seen as a bit of a cliché rather than an actual, attainable goal. I think sometimes we lose sight of what the idea of partnership really means. But it's time we recover the meaning of partnership. And I say that for two reasons:

        First, because communities are facing difficult public safety challenges. It's true that crime rates nationally have gone down over the last several years, but that's only part of the story. Our Bureau of Justice Statistics reported just last week that violent victimization rates were unchanged in 2008 from 2007. Crime has plateaued, which tells me that we're far from out of the woods. Also, although some cities have seen crime drops, many communities are struggling with serious crime issues, like gangs, youth violence, and drugs. And this at a time when local governments are faced with cutting basic public safety services.

        And that's reason number two. Partnerships and collaboration are critical to meeting civic needs when state and municipal budgets are drying up. What we're learning in this economy is that we can't do it alone. And while there may be bureaucratic and logistical obstacles to pooling resources, we can work together to identify gaps and think about ways to address those gaps.

        Fortunately, there are private foundations like all of yours that are committed to making our communities safe and healthy places to live.

        I hope that we can use this meeting to renew a national commitment to partnerships in the interest of public safety.

        You'll hear from the Attorney General and the Associate Attorney General a little later. I know they'll talk about their priorities and their commitment to partnerships.

        One of the things you'll probably hear the Attorney General talk about is his interest in evidence-based approaches. This has become his mantra, and it's long been a central concern of mine. So I'd just ask that, when we have our discussions today, you think about how we can improve and disseminate our knowledge of what works in preventing and reducing crime.

        I know you're all very busy, and I know I speak for the Attorney General and the Associate when I tell you how very grateful we are to you for taking the time to come.

        It's a privilege to host you today, and I look forward to a very productive discussion.

        Now I'd like to take some time for introductions.

        I realize most of you probably don't know one another, so I wanted to allow time for you to introduce yourselves to your counterparts at other foundations, and to my colleagues at OJP. I'd like to ask that you take a minute or two to say a little bit about your organization, your priorities, and your own interest in building partnerships.

        Without meaning to be rude, I would ask that you keep your introductions to no more than two minutes. As I said, we have more than 50 foundations and more than that number of participants, and I don't want to cut into our discussion time later. Marlene will be our timekeeper and taskmaster, and she'll give you a signal to let you know when a minute's passed, and then the red light at the two-minute mark. So, please don't take it personally when you see the sign.

        Also, the Attorney General will be joining us at about 11:00, and in deference to his schedule, we'll interrupt our introductions when he arrives.

        I'd like to begin with Steve Gunderson. Steve is the President and CEO of the Council on Foundations, which represents more than 2,100 grant-making foundations and corporations.

        He comes at this issue of public/private partnerships from both sides, having served three terms in the Wisconsin State Legislature and 16 years in Congress. He's also worked in the private sector on issues related to strategic management and communications, and he's a nationally recognized expert on philanthropic and workforce investment issues.

        I've asked him to kick us off by sharing a few thoughts. Steve...

        Thank you very much, Steve.

        I mentioned earlier that several of OJP's and DOJ's component heads are here today. I'd like to ask each of them to, very briefly, introduce themselves to the group – just your name, title, and office. Why don't we begin with Portia... [cue Portia Roberson from OIPL, then cue bureau heads.]

        Thank you all. I'm also pleased that some of their staff are here today. You'll get a chance to meet and talk to them during lunch.

        We'll just go around the room now.

        As promised, the Attorney General has joined us. Eric, we're so pleased to have you with us. We've been going around the room with introductions.

        Eric Holder really needs no introduction, but I'd just like to say that I feel extremely fortunate to work for an Attorney General who is so committed to the issues that we're all concerned about.

        He's someone who truly understands what communities are up against in preventing and reducing crime. He has vast experience on the local level – both as a prosecutor and as a local superior court judge – and he's worked hard to make the Department of Justice – at all levels – responsive to local needs.

        He was thrilled when I talked to him about this meeting, and he told me he wanted to come over to show his appreciation to all of you for your commitment, and to talk to you for a few minutes about some of the issues he sees as important.

        So it's my pleasure to welcome the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.

        Thank you, Eric.

        The Attorney General has a few minutes before he needs to leave, and he told me that he'd welcome hearing any thoughts or suggestions you might have. Would anyone like to open it up?

        Thank you, all.

        We're now going to move into our lunch breakout sessions, and I'm going to turn it over to Marlene to explain how that will work.

        I'm pleased that the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli, is able to join us now.

        Tom served in the Department of Justice under Janet Reno as her Counsel and as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division, and like the Attorney General, he comes to his post as Associate with a strong commitment to building partnerships in support of local communities.

        As evidenced by his participation here, he recognizes the critical role that private foundations play in preventing and reducing crime, and he's very interested in finding ways to maximize our collaboration as funders.

        I really appreciate him taking the time to be here today. Please welcome the Associate Attorney General, Tom Perrelli.

        Thanks very much, Tom.

        Would anyone like to share any thoughts or suggestions with the Associate?

        This concludes the DOJ segment of today's meeting, but Tim Silard has expressed an interest in continuing a dialogue, after a short break, with anyone who wishes to stay. Tim, is there anything you want to say about the discussion before we break for a few minutes?

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