Proposed Cuts to DOJ Grant Programs Stumble in Congress

WASHINGTON (CN) – Dissecting a federal budget that has little hope of passing, members of Congress voiced hesitation Thursday about President Donald Trump’s call for cuts to three Justice Department grant programs.

“It is imperative that Congress be apprised of the fundamental parameters of these programs,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte said at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigation.

With Capitol Hill abuzz this morning about the expected Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, the House subcommittee focused on portions of the Trump administration’s budget that would cut $377 million from three state and local grant offices at the Justice Department.

Combined, the Trump administration requested $5.1 billion for the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Violence Against Women and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, about $400 million more than what the Obama administration had asked for in its last budget. Most of that difference is in mandatory spending, however, with the White House calling for heavy cuts in discretionary spending at all three offices.

A Virginia Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte expressed concern that some of the programs on the chopping block have never been approved by Congress.

“We need to learn who is eligible, what the grant awards look like, what percentage of appropriated funding is actually distributed to grantees and what DOJ permits the funds to be spent on,” Goodlatte added.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats appeared keen at the hearing Thursday to cut the programs, which include money that helps strengthen community and state efforts to fight against domestic violence and sexual assault. Republicans did, however, emphasize the need to cut down on overlap in the grant system.

A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found “overlap” in the three programs, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, noted. While the Justice Department has taken steps to cut back on this overlap, Gohmert said “more streamlining is likely warranted.”

“While many of these grant programs help create a positive impact in our communities on a daily basis, not all of the DOJ’s spending is as efficient as it should be,” Gohmert added.

To get a better understanding of the proposed cuts, the subcommittee directed questions at Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson, who oversees the Office of Justice Programs.

They focused mainly on the effectiveness of specific programs but occasionally veered into topics such as how the agency oversees the money it is sending out to local law enforcement. Hanson was adamant that the Justice Department is working to keep the programs lean and effective.

“Between the department’s three grant-making offices, we’re helping to lead an impressive, pre-emptive attack on crime and violence creeping into too many of our neighborhoods while guarding against waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” Hanson said at the hearing.

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