The U.S. Department of Justice awarded a $1.2 million grant to an evangelical Christian organization and a consulting firm run by a former White House aide, ABC News has reported.
Part of the money went to Victory Outreach, a group that describes its mission as to carry “the hope and message of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth.” The rest of the funds went to a consulting firm run by Lisa Trevino Cummins, who previously headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
ABC reported that the grant was awarded to the organizations despite concerns raised by Justice Department staffers.
“The grant was awarded over the strong objections of career DOJ staff who did not believe that Victory Outreach was qualified for the grant and that too great an amount of the funds was going to Cummins’ consulting company instead of being spent on services for children,” reported ABC.
Cummins’ company, Urban Strategies LLC, was slated to get one-third of the money for helping Victory Outreach use the rest of the funds. In the end, the network reported, Victory Outreach rejected the grant because it was too large and the group did not believe it was qualified to carry it out.
A former DOJ official who spent 10 years awarding juvenile crime grants told ABC that “the agenda for children is not always a priority” in awarding the grants since J. Robert Flores took over as administrator of the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Flores, ABC reported, has consistently ignored recommendations from DOJ staff, and instead has awarded grants to organizations that have “political, social or religious connections to the Bush administration.” He is now under investigation by the DOJ’s Inspector General.
The DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which exists to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization, is supposed to award grants to organizations performing services that will help meet this goal. Yet the office gave $1.1 million to an organization called “Best Friends,” which has a fundraising gala every year for a program that promotes teenage abstinence. “Best Friends” is run by the wife of former Republican education secretary and “drug czar” William Bennett.
ABC also reported that Flores turned down money to the program ranked highest in merit by DOJ staff because it provided sex education and condoms to at-risk teenagers in San Diego. The report noted that in the six years Flores has been in charge, he has never approved grant money for programs that work with gay and lesbian teens, a group with a high risk for suicide.
This is not the first time federal offices have been accused of misconduct regarding “faith-based” grants. According to Youth Today, a federal juvenile justice official helped selected organizations apply for Justice Department grants past the deadline – a significant violation of department policy – and directed employees to help a favored organization win a grant, according to federal documents.
The day after the ABC story ran, the White House sponsored a national conference on faith-based social services. Bush spoke at the event, lauding the initiative and insisting it has been successful.
Critics disagreed sharply.
“The ‘faith-based’ initiative should be shut down, not celebrated,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Since day one, the Bush administration has misused the initiative to advance its political agenda and reward religious and political cronies. The initiative has undermined vital constitutional and civil rights safeguards. And it has been cynically manipulated for partisan ends. The ‘faith-based’ initiative has been a disaster of biblical proportions.”