Wednesday, April 15, 2009

State auditor: CCA needs written rules for grant oversight

The state auditor has published a new report casting light on a subject I've long thought deserved more scrutiny: Training grants made by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals as part of the court's administrative functions. On the Dallas News' Crime Blog, Diane Jennings says:
The lengthy report is full of mind-numbing statistics, but one in particular jumps out: In 2008 a hefty portion of the money--about half--received by seven grant recipients went towards administrative expenditures, including salaries. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association spent a whopping 75 percent of their grant on administrative costs, while the Center for American and International Law spent only about 36 percent.

The report notes that a 2001 study of nonprofit organizations spent an average of 16 percent of total expenditures on administrative costs and says the Court "is ultimately responsible" for determining what is reasonable.
Let's run through the highlights. According to the SAO summary, the Court:
does not limit the amount of grant funds that can be expended on grantee administrative costs. Grantees' administrative expenditures in fiscal year 2008 ranged from 36.5 percent to 75.1 percent, with an average administrative expenditure rate of 49.5 percent across the seven grantees. The Court also should improve its financial monitoring by requiring grantees to report budget-to-actual expenditures and ensuring that audits of state and non-state funds are conducted as required by the grant provisions.

The Court also should develop written policies, procedures, and performance measures to monitor grantees' program performance. ... Without implementing performance standards and monitoring grantee performance, the Court cannot effectively ensure that grantees comply with grant agreements or use state funds efficiently.

The Court lacks formal, written policies and procedures for awarding and administering grants. While the Court ensures that grant applications considered for evaluation are substantially complete, it does not document the rationale it uses to make award decisions. In addition to $16.9 million in judicial education program grants, the Court reported that it awarded approximately $171,626 in supplemental grants during fiscal years 2007 and 2008; however, the Court did not have a written agreement to document the purposes and amounts of supplement grants awarded. As a result, the Court could not ensure that these supplemental grant funds were used as intended. Also, these supplemental grants were awarded through a noncompetitive process.

The Court's Education Committee is required by Texas Government Code, Section 56.005, to provide curriculum recommendations to the Court. However, the Court could not provide any documentation showing that the Education Committee had formally met or issued an annual report of recommendations since the committee was created in fiscal year 2004. As a result, the Court primarily relies on the grantees' curriculum committees to identify training needs of state judicial and court personnel.

Here's a list of the grants given by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2008 and the percentage of the grant that was spent on administrative costs (from a table on pp. 8-9 of the pdf):

  • Center for American and International Law $ 299,696, 36.5%
  • Texas Association of Counties $489,220, 50.6%
  • Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association $1,098,670, 75.1%
  • Texas Center for the Judiciary $1,738,265, 41.7%
  • Texas District and County Attorneys Association $1,798,289, 47.8%
  • Texas Justice Court Training Center $1,931,037, 50.6%
  • Texas Municipal Courts Education Center $2,127,274, 44.7%
Total: $9,482,451, 49.5%.

That means the Court is financing a great deal of core infrastructure for both the prosecutors' association and the state criminal defense bar! I knew those groups received grants from the court, but I'd never seen the numbers.

The prosecutors' association received $34,000 more in administrative support than TCDLA, but because they received $700,000 more overall, the defense bar's administrative percentage was higher. That's a not-insignificant amount of pork, making the CCA a big-fish funder in the small ponds inhabited by these groups.


gravyrug said...

My wife works on grants for the college system, and even the completely untrained grant managers there have better sense than to be that blatant.

Anonymous said...

The Court of Criminal Appeals is now planning to grant money to itself, apparently, by putting on the Texas Forensic Science Seminar, Oct. 7-9 2010.