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

U.S. Conference of Mayors Meeting on Implementation of and Accountability for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Washington, DC
February 20, 2009

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

I'm taking on again a role I played for seven years under President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, only this time in an acting capacity. I agreed to serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General because the issues that the Office of Justice Programs deals with - particularly its support of law enforcement - are so important to me, and I wanted to do my part to help Attorney General Holder during the transition.

The President and the Attorney General both understand the strain that the economic crisis has put on state and local law enforcement. They know that police departments across the country are seeing increases in crime because of the economy. And they know that many departments are facing the imminent threat of budget cuts. This is a recipe for disaster.

Throughout his campaign, President Obama talked about the importance of giving full support to communities as they fight crime. He even went so far as to say that, quote, "protecting citizens is our first and most solemn duty in government."

Those aren't idle words, either. The President believes that programs such as the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program are the cornerstone of federal law enforcement assistance, and he has made a commitment to restoring funding so that local law enforcement officers can do their jobs.

This commitment is shared by everyone in this Administration. Vice President Biden, who as Senator was one of the original authors of the Crime Bill that created the COPS program back in '94 and fought to restore Byrne JAG funding, has - as you know - a long-standing and passionate interest in criminal justice.

And these issues are near and dear to the Attorney General as well. I know Eric Holder well from the years we worked together in the Reno Justice Department. The Attorney General is a veteran prosecutor, not to mention, of course, a veteran of the Justice Department, and he fully understands and appreciates the need for full federal assistance to local law enforcement. He and I have personally discussed it on a number of occasions going back to last year.

We're just a month into the Administration, and I'm very pleased to say that the President is already delivering on his commitment to local public safety needs.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act makes $4 billion available to the Justice Department to support criminal justice efforts. More than $2.76 billion of that money will be administered by the Office of Justice Programs. Let me break down for you how that money will be used:

  • The lion's share of the money - $2 billion - will be available to state and local law enforcement through the Byrne JAG formula grant program. President Obama made it clear during the campaign that the Byrne JAG program is critical to public safety, and the Recovery Act reflects that. (Just a note on the formula - 60 percent is allocated for states, and 40 percent is set aside for local governments.)
  • An additional $225 million is allocated for the Byrne Competitive Grants Program, which means that local law enforcement agencies 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, and problem-solving courts.
  • There's also another $125 million to help law enforcement agencies in rural communities fight crime, particularly drug-related crime.
  • $40 million is set aside for law enforcement agencies along the southern border and in High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat narcotics trafficking. $10 million will go to ATF.
  • $50 million is allocated for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program.
  • $225 million is reserved for tribal law enforcement assistance.
  • And $100 million is available for victim assistance and victim compensation programs.

As you can see, the Recovery Act makes substantial resources available to communities, including funds to aid in the hiring of criminal justice personnel.

So, now we have all this money to administer. Naturally, your next question is, "When can our communities expect to see it?" Two-point-seventy-six billion dollars is quite an infusion of money, and we estimate that some 12,000 additional grants are possible as a result. So how are we going to handle getting it out there and deliver on the Administration's promise of timely, targeted, and transparent funding?

Let me say this, first of all. Having served as Assistant Attorney General for OJP under President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, I can assure you that OJP has the wherewithal and experience to move a lot of money quickly and with the necessary controls in place to ensure that it's used effectively.

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've been working hard to refine our strategy as the stimulus bill moved forward. We've also been talking to the State Administering Agencies to prepare them. So, suffice it to say, OJP has been poised to move these funds.

So, you ask again, when should we expect to see something? The answer is, very soon. The Administration is requiring that federal agencies post funding opportunity announcements, which are synopses of the announcements, within 20 days of the Recovery Act - that would be March 9th - and that the full announcement be posted within 30 days. OJP plans to beat those timelines.

After allowing for a reasonable application period, we plan to make all formula grant awards within 30 days of the close of the solicitation. For discretionary programs, we will begin making awards in April. By federal grant-making standards, this is fast. What it means is that outreach is very important. And here, we will need your help.

There are a number of things that an organization must have in place before it can apply for funding. Many organizations and agencies have already taken these steps, but there will be some that haven't. We want to make sure that those groups aren't left out by virtue of the quick turnaround.

We ask that you direct your colleagues and constituents to our Web site so that they can take care of these preliminary steps in preparation for funding announcements. Our Web site directs visitors to our own Recovery Act page, where you'll find information on funding and on what you need to do to apply. It will also take you to other resources, such as the Administration's Recovery.Gov Web site and the COPS and Office on Violence Against Women Web sites.

Our Recovery Act page just went live two days ago, and it will be updated continually.

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.

It also bears mentioning 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 will be taken very seriously.

We've got our work cut out for us, but we're very excited about what this funding means for communities, and what it can mean for innovation in the field of criminal justice.

I want to close by reiterating that the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice are fully committed to giving you the resources you need to fight crime in your communities. The Office of Justice Programs is well situated to make sure that Recovery Act money gets to America's towns and cities and is used in the most effective way possible.

I want to thank you for the work you've done on behalf of public safety professionals in your communities, and I want to thank you for your time today.

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