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DA takes the blame, but feds mismanaged the money 

Wednesday, Apr 23 2008

The feds have been pointing a lot of fingers at San Francisco since an audit determined that the D.A.'s office accepted $5.4 million in U.S. Department of Justice funds that it probably wasn't entitled to. Which is funny, because the audit that started this whole thing pointed its fingers at the feds. In fact, they were the ones getting audited.

It turns out the DOJ is actually worse at handling money than we are. After all, San Francisco didn't "steal" the money, we "applied" for it — and the Office of the Inspector General's report strongly suggests that maybe if the DOJ had some system to determine who is in fact eligible for the millions of dollars it doles out, that would be super.

"[F]or the past 8 years grant management has been identified by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as one of DOJ's top 10 management and performance challenges," the audit notes. Case in point: The audit found $15.57 million in "unallowable and unsupported reimbursements" in the South West Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI) — way more than San Francisco's piece of the pie. In fact, a whole 28 percent of the total dollars given out by SWBPI ought to have been unallowable.

That's more than one in four dollars being given out inappropriately, to every city that applied.

Somehow, it gets worse. "[W]e found that none of the seven jurisdictions included in our audit maintained any documentation to support costs associated with SWBPI cases submitted for reimbursement," the report said. None of them? As in ... none?

Yep. The audit also reported that there was no training to assist grant recipients' work through the funding guidelines, and that a majority of the funding recipients contacted found the program guidelines to be unclear and "open to interpretation."

This would be San Francisco's problem if the city were the only grant recipient not keeping adequate documentation, but when no grant recipient does, that's the grant maker's problem.

At least, that's the report's conclusion. "In our judgment, the significant amount of dollar-related findings identified during our audits of SWBPI recipients is due in part to the fact that OJP (Office of Justice Programs) is not adequately overseeing or monitoring the SWBPI program."

Repeated phone calls to get representatives from the DOJ to comment on the report — and on whether San Francisco is being put under the spotlight to take the heat off the feds — were not returned.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Kamala Harris declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations with the feds over what comes next. Off the record, some D.A. officials were steaming about getting turned into scapegoats for what is — first and last — the Department of Justice's mess.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


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