House hearing on DOJ contracting: One witness testifies; another takes the Fifth.


The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this morning held a hearing on alleged favoritism in the awarding of grants by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). While Robert Flores testified at length, his chief of staff, Michelle Dekonty, informed the committee through counsel that she was invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

An account of the hearing by ABC can be found here. Flores’ prepared statement in defense of himself can be found here, as well as a number of documents relevant to the congressional inquiry. The most important document posted on the committee’s website however, is a long investigative staff memo. For those not as interested in this issue as me, I promise my blog will move on to other subjects soon– but this is important too!

Update: The Winona Daily News weighs in. By way of explanation about their interest, Winona State lost out on a grant despite having the foruth higher rating of 104 gant applicants. The Congressman from the district which represents Winona Sate, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) had some things he wanted to get off his chest at the hearing today:

Winona State University and one of its most recognized programs was at the forefront of a Congressional hearing Thursday:

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing was the culmination of a U.S. House of Representatives investigation focused on J. Robert Flores, a U.S. Department of Justice administrator, accused of passing over highly ranked grant applicants — including WSU-affiliated National Child Protection Training Center — for less-qualified applicants in a competitive grant program managed by his department.

The investigation was sparked by WSU officials, who… expressed their concern to Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. Walz then contacted Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee’s chairman, who initiated the investigation into the actions by Flores’ office.

Lawmakers have accused Flores of awarding money to groups who share his political philosophies or whose officials have personal ties to him.

“We were devastated when we found out we didn’t get the funding,” said James Schmidt, WSU’s vice president for university advancement. “The department spelled out the criteria, they did the analysis, we came up with our proposal, and then to be bypassed, it was just devastating.”

The NCPTC, founded in 2003 and headed by WSU graduate Victor Vieth, provides training to law enforcement and child protection professionals who handle child abuse cases. Often on financial life-support since its inception, the NCPTC had relied on earmarks from Congress as it developed a child-advocacy studies curriculum in universities throughout the country.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Earlier articles by Murray Waas on abuses in the Justice Department’s juvenile justice grant programs:

Anna Schecter and Murray Waas, “DOJ Official Breached Ethics Rules Playing Golf,” ABC,  May 1, 2009.

Anna Schecter and Murray Waas, “DOJ Official Fired in Wake of ABC News Investigation,” ABC, June 25, 2008.

Murray Waas and Anna Schecter, “Exclusive: White House Pushed Grant for Former Staffer,” ABC, June 24, 2008.

Anna Schecter and Brian Ross and Murray Waas, “$500,000 Round of Golf? Congress Probes Official,” ABC, June 19, 2008.

Murray Waas, “Questions Surround Government Funded Abstinence Program,” ABC, June 12, 2008.

Murray S. Waas, “Judge’s Group Director Pays DOJ Settlement,” ABC, April 29, 2008.

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