WASHINGTON – An Iowa senator is calling for action after audits revealed at least six recipients of grants to fight human trafficking made unauthorized expenditures and incurred questionable costs.
Six audits completed between 2007 and 2009 reported more than $2.72 million in unsupported,unallowable or questioned costs of the $8.24 million total the Department of Justice awarded to the six grant recipients.
“These select individual audits signal to me that there is a bigger problem,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley,R-Iowa,during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. “The inspector general audited seven trafficking grantees and found serious problems in all seven.”
During the hearing on the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act,which provides grants and resources for trafficking victims,advocates,law enforcement and prosecutors,Grassley questioned whether the Department of Justice is awarding money to the appropriate organizations.
“Holding grant programs accountable will help to ensure that services really go to those in need,” Grassley,the senior Republican on the committee,said in a statement. “Before we reauthorize another dollar,we need strong oversight language included in legislation – to ensure that failing grantees will not be rewarded with additional taxpayer dollars.”
Human trafficking is “the recruitment,transportation,transfer,harboring or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation,” according to the National Institute of Justice’s website.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act became law in 2000 to help organizations spread awareness,provide services to survivors of trafficking,investigate trafficking and support the prosecution of traffickers.
Not all grant recipients appear to be handling their money appropriately,however. One audit discovered that the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs in Chicago,which was awarded $2 million,did not have adequate documentation for $902,122 in salaries and $174,479 in fringe benefits.
Another inspector general audit in 2008 found that,although the Office of Justice Programs’ human trafficking grant programs have “built significant capacities to serve victims,” the programs have not “identified and served significant numbers of victims.”
The Office of Justice Programs began working with the inspector general’s office to correct the problems and prevent such “failures” in the future,Mary Lou Leary,principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs,told the committee.
“The Office of Justice Programs has basically turned its relationship with the inspector general’s office into one of collaboration,” Leary said. “The first thing we did was we worked very closely with each and every one of those grantees to resolve all the issues that were pointed out in the audit.”
The Office for Victims of Crime,which awards grants to task forces and other grant recipients that provide direct services to victims in their communities,has developed a detailed checklist for applicants seeking money for human trafficking work,Leary said.
Applicants must list detailed information on the number of human trafficking victims they have previously served and disclose how long they have provided services to these victims,according to written testimony from the hearing. The office also reviews the budget and program strategy of each applicant.
The Office of Justice Programs does recover any grant money that has been misused,Leary said,although she did not provide an amount.
Reach reporter Pamela Engel at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWirre.