Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cronyism

Here’s a little context for today’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings, in which J. Robert Flores, administrator of the Justice Department’s office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, will accuse members of Congress of bias against golf and the wealthy.

Yes, we all know how much members of Congress dislike golf and wealth.
Setting aside its traditional mission, Flores’ office awarded a $500,000 federal grant last year to the World Golf Association. In explaining why he overrode his career staff in awarding the grant, Flores explained: “We need something… to engage the gangs and the street kids. Golf is the hook.” Flores awarded the grant despite the fact that the group’s grant proposal rated 47th best out of 104 applicants. The honorary chairman the Golf Association’s First Tee program is former [president] George Herbert Walker Bush.

In a draft of his testimony to be given to Congress tomorrow, Flores has decided to come out swinging against those who criticize the grant to the World Golf Association, claiming that they are “biased against the wealthy.” Flores wrote in the draft testimony that he believes that the grant has been “pilloried because it was tied to golf, and I assume for those who are biased against the wealthy, because it has historically been a sport of the well-to-do.”

Flores also overruled his professional staff and awarded a million dollar grant to the Best Friends Foundation, an organization that promotes sexual abstinence. Best Friends ranked 53rd out of 104 grant applicants. Additionally, the organization refused to participate in a congressionally mandated study into the effectiveness of abstinence programs for teens.

Why then did Best Friends obtain its grant? The founder and president of Best Friends is Elayne Bennett. Her husband, Bill Bennett, had been, respectively, the Secretary of Education during the Reagan administration and the drug czar for the first Bush administration. Now at days, of course, Bill Bennett spends most of his time as a cable television personality supporting the policies of the current Bush administration Moreover, funding sexual abstinence for teenagers has been a priority for the White House.

While Best Friends and the World Golf Association received their grants, more than forty other organizations that had received higher ratings from Justice Department reviewers received no federal money at all. Those denied grants included organizations that train youth corrections officers, counsel rape victims, and work to prevent suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

A program to help troubled teens in San Diego, Vista, was ranked number two by the staff out of 202 applicants in its category of prevention and intervention but was turned down for a grant to help deal with inner city teen violence in San Diego. Why was its grant turned down? Justice Department employees said Flores did not like the fact that group distributed condoms.
After defending his actions before Congress, Flores can concentrate on the Justice Department’s investigation of his taxpayer-funded golf and tennis trips.

More here.

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