DoJ Conference Expenditures Nearly Double in last two years, Trafficking Bill

Prepared Statement of Ranking Member Chuck Grassley

Senate Committee on the Judiciary  

Executive Business Meeting

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mr. Chairman,

With regard to the judicial nominations, we are prepared to vote on the following nominations today:  Wallach, Christensen, Bencivengo, Groh, and Brodie.   We have a request on our side for a roll call vote on Wallach.  There are requests on our side to hold over the following nominees, who are appearing for the first time on our agenda:  Jordán, Gerrard, Phillips, Rice, Nuffer, Frank, Pane, and Webb.  

We have a number of bills on the agenda today that appear for the first time.  We have a request on our side to hold over all of them for consideration next week.   

On the legislation, I would like to say a few words about S.1301, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  We held a hearing on this legislation just three weeks ago that focused on the administration of programs designed to help victims of trafficking.  

It is my hope that that the administration will get back to us with the questions we submitted for the record so we can consider those as part of our discussion on the bill next week.  

I am pleased to report that my staff and the Chairman’s have been working together for the last few weeks to find common ground on this issue.  However, there are changes needed in the draft to ensure that we recognize the changing times and the current fiscal crisis.  We need to ensure that our resources are carefully spent and are only provided to programs that are working.

At the hearing, I raised my concerns with the Department of Justice about a number of audits that have been conducted showing shocking examples of waste and abuse of grants.  I highlighted how the Inspector General had pulled nine specific grants and reviewed them for compliance.  All nine of those audits found hundreds of thousands of dollars in questioned costs, unauthorized expenditures, failed matching requirements, questioned salaries and fringe benefits, and many other problems.  

I raised these audits with the witness from the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs who admitted that one audit that questioned over $1.3 million of a $1.7 million grant, showed that the grant was a failure.  This is unacceptable and the American taxpayers deserve better.  These audits demand our attention and that is why we “reauthorize” these programs—to make sure the money isn’t being wasted.  

Yet, here, we have audits showing that money is being wasted.  So we have the opportunity and responsibility to fix this.  Our efforts to reauthorize this legislation need to fix this problem and ensure that grantees that commit violations like this never see another federal dollar.  We need transparency, accountability, and performance from grantees that are trusted with federal dollars.  Absent any of these three things, they should not receive any money.

Further, we need to hold accountable the Justice Department, State Department, and other federal agencies that award trafficking grants under the TVPA.  These bureaucracies often turn a blind eye to the waste, abuse, and mismanagement of these grants, leading up to these audits.  

Too often, the agencies simply fail to conduct the oversight required of the grants and then plead ignorant when the Inspector General finds problems.  This too has to stop.  Both the grant managers and the grantees should be held accountable.  It starts at the top with the head of the agency and we need those in power at these agencies to question spending, not just push taxpayer dollars out the door.  

Unfortunately, as the recent report on conference expenditures at the Justice Department points out, it’s clear this Justice Department doesn’t understand that.  We all heard about the infamous $16 muffins and all the hay the hotels and the Justice Department have raised to refute the finding.  Well, what they can’t hide from is the fact that since President Obama took office, conference spending at the Justice Department has nearly doubled from the Bush administration.  

In fiscal 2008, the Justice Department spent $47.8 million on conferences.  In President Obama’s first year, Fiscal Year 2009, that increased to $73.3 million.  Last year, it increased further to $91.5 million.  That is not fiscal responsibility, that’s excess and waste.  

The point is, we are well past the time when we can reauthorize programs without giving them the scrutiny needed.  We have a Justice Department that is addicted to spending without control and we need to rein that in.  We need to use this opportunity to ensure that hard earned taxpayer dollars are going to the people we are trying to help, here that’s the victims of trafficking.  If we continue to allow grants to be mismanaged, a victim who could have been helped goes without.  

I hope the Chairman and I can continue our work and reach an agreement on this bill for next week.  Thank you.