Tech woes will delay around $3 bln in U.S. Justice Dept grants

Technological glitches will cause the U.S. Justice Department to be late in paying out around $3 billion in grants that fund programs such as victims services and criminal justice research, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.

The problems with the grant management system known as JustGrants are delaying more than half of the criminal justice grants to municipalities, states, research institutions and nonprofits that the department would normally award by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The documents reveal ongoing woes in the administration of its $4.7 billion grant program first reported by Reuters in July that led the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, to call for a probe of the program. The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, later said his office would audit the $115 million contract with General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) to build JustGrants.

The Justice Department said in internal planning records that it will be forced to give out the money on a rolling basis, and will only aim to award about $1.4 billion by Sept. 30. The bulk of that money entails grants designated to help victims of crime.

Another roughly $560 million will be awarded by Oct. 31 and the rest of the funds, more than $2.5 billion, are targeted to be awarded by Dec. 31, according to the draft documents.

The internal planning documents are still in the draft stage, and the total amounts could still change.

“We deeply regret that there may be delays and understand how important it is to get all grant awards processed as quickly as possible,” wrote Amy Solomon, the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, in a notice sent to staff after Reuters reported on the delays.

“I know that you are all doing everything you can to ensure that grantees receive awards as quickly as possible so that we can get these critical resources to the field and our stakeholders can continue the essential work of protecting communities, serving victims, and supporting a justice system that is just, fair, and effective.”

The Justice Department is expected to formally notify lawmakers and grantees about the delays in funding in the near future.

A Justice Department spokesman had no immediate comment.

The JustGrants system has been plagued with glitches since its October 2020 launch, making it hard for grantees to file applications or upload crucial financial reports required in order to get their funding.

Reuters in July reported that some grant recipients had faced monthslong delays accessing their awards due to problems with JustGrants, prompting multiple complaints to Congress and the Justice Department’s inspector general.

When the inspector general announced the audit of the General Dynamics contract, a spokesman for the company said it was working with the department “to deliver a modernized JustGrants system” and the work was being completed “in line with the implementation roadmap and schedule” laid out by the Justice Department.

The Justice Department awards some $4.7 billion in grants each year to help fund everything from body-worn cameras for police to transitional housing for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking victims.

Critics say the problems with JustGrants could hinder President Joe Biden’s efforts to persuade Congress to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for additional Justice Department grant programs, including $300 million to help law enforcement hire more police officers.