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

National Association of Counties
Legislative Conference
Washington, DC
March 8, 2009

Thank you, Don. It's great to be back. NACo meetings are not new to me. I served as OJP's Assistant Attorney General for seven years under Janet Reno, and I've known Don for 25 years or so, so it's like Old Home Week coming back.

I appreciate the chance to speak to you during the short time that I'm likely to be at OJP. I agreed to serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General because the issues that OJP deals with are so important to me, and I wanted to do my part to help Attorney General Holder during the transition.

I want to say first of all that there is a new era at the U.S. Department of Justice. The Attorney General, who sends his greetings, believes that county officials - as well as city, state, and tribal officials - are our front-line partners, and he understands that partnership with the federal government means backing your efforts with resources.

Throughout his campaign, President Obama talked about the importance of giving full support to counties and communities as they fight crime. He went on record to say that "protecting citizens is our first and most solemn duty in government." He also made it clear that programs such as Byrne JAG are the cornerstone of federal criminal justice assistance, and he has made a commitment to restoring funding so that counties and city governments have the resources they need to fight and prevent crime.

This commitment 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. $2.76 billion of that money will be administered by the Office of Justice Programs. You may be familiar with how that money breaks down, but I'll just take a moment to run through it.

  • The lion's share of the money - $2 billion - will be available to counties, local governments, and states through the Byrne JAG formula grant program. As you know, these funds are intended to support a wide range of criminal justice activities - everything from drug and gang task forces, to courts and corrections, to treatment and victim services. Those funds will be available to counties for reentry programs, addressing meth, and helping to divert the mentally ill from jail. We just posted state and local allocations on the BJA Web site, and the solicitation and some FAQs are forthcoming. (Just a note on the formula - 60 percent is allocated for states, and 40 percent is set aside for local governments, which includes counties.)
  • An additional $225 million is allocated for the Byrne Competitive Grants Program, which means that counties and 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.
  • There's also another $125 million to help law enforcement agencies in rural areas fight crime, particularly drug-related crime. And we will give priority to those applicants that are not eligible to receive a direct JAG allocation.
  • $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 of that will go to ATF.
  • $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 between federal, county, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Many sheriffs' offices have been actively involved in these efforts.
  • $225 million is set aside for the construction of tribal corrections facilities.
  • And $100 million is available for victim assistance and victim compensation programs, and for victim-centered training, technical assistance, and demonstration projects.

As you can see, the Recovery Act makes substantial resources available to counties, states, and 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 we expect to see it?" We estimate that some 12,000 additional grants are possible as a result of the Recovery Act. 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 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 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 worked to refine our strategy as the stimulus bill moved forward. We've also been in close touch with the State Administering Agencies to prepare them. 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 formula grant solicitations, and synopses of discretionary programs will be posted tomorrow. Full program announcements for all programs will posted by March 19th.

Formula grant solicitations will be posted for 30 days, and discretionary solicitations will be posted for 30 to 60 days. Once the solicitations close, we plan to make formula awards within 15 to 65 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. We're aggressively reaching out to potential applicants to make sure they know about the funding that's available and the process for applying. 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 national groups like NACo spread the word about these resources and help connect potential applicants to the help they need to apply. We want to make sure that no one is left out by virtue of the quick turnaround.

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.

We're also pleased to follow the Recovery Act with the President's budget proposal for 2010. His top-line proposal includes a three-and-a-half percent increase over the 2009 budget for the Justice Department, which will allow for more funding for law enforcement hiring, among other things.

In terms of OJP funding, the most prominent budget item is for offender reentry programs. A total of $109 million is set aside for reentry programs, $75 million of which would come to OJP for programs authorized by the Second Chance Act, which President Obama supported as a Senator. Vice President Biden also was a primary sponsor of that bill. And I know that NACo fully supported its passage.

More and more, research shows or suggests how important reentry programs are to public safety. The Pew report that just came out and that you heard about yesterday underscores that. As that report shows, the vast majority of offenders live in the community, which means that strong community supervision and other elements of successful reentry programs are key to crime prevention.

Again, I know that NACo played a major role in getting Second Chance passed and signed into law, particularly with regard to jail reentry. We're now seeing the fruits of your labor. I'm pleased that we're currently soliciting applications for reentry demonstration projects under the Second Chance Act. States, counties, and local and tribal governments are eligible to apply. That solicitation is open until April 20th. I encourage you to visit our Web site at ojp.gov for more information.

I also want to express my appreciation for NACo's partnership with our Bureau of Justice Assistance to get the word out about promising reentry practices, particularly with regard to offenders who have mental health and substance abuse disorders. I know that dealing with mentally ill offenders has long been a particularly difficult challenge for county officials, sheriffs, and other jail administrators. The line is, as I'm sure you'll agree, that jails have become de facto mental health providers.

Along those lines, I want to acknowledge NACo's work to provide training and technical assistance under BJA's Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. We look forward to being able to work with county 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 our final numbers for the President's 2010 request, so we don't know the details of what the President will request for OJP. But we do know that they will reflect the Administration's full commitment to supporting county, 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.

We're also on stand-by for the '09 omnibus appropriations bill (now in the Senate). The current house version includes $2 billion for OJP grants, including $546 million for Byrne JAG. There's not much more that we can say on that point, except "stay tuned."

I want to close by reiterating that the Department of Justice and the Office of Justice Programs are fully committed to giving you the resources you need to fight crime in your communities. OJP is well situated to make sure that Recovery Act and other appropriated money gets to America's counties 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 counties, and I want to thank you for your time today.

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