COPS works to correct stimulus payments

Math is hard. That\'s led to problems with stimulus grants from the Justice Department. COPS Director Bernard Melekian explains.

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

No federal agency intends to give out money to the wrong people, but we all know it happens.

“I think it is important to recognize,” said Bernard Melekian, “that mistakes will be made and the challenge, of course, is to A) own up to them and B) fix them.”

Even at the Justice Department. Some would might say especially at the Justice Department.

Melekian is the director of the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS. I recent IG review found problems with stimulus grants designed to fund hiring in state and local law enforcement agencies.

In short, according their calcuations, the IG found that money went to 45 groups that shouldn’t have gotten it, didn’t go to 34 that should have, and six more should have qualified for more funding than they got.

Melekian told Federal News Radio, the problem was there was a selection of methods to rank applicants. His office chose the wrong one.

The COPS office computed the rate of change, particularly with regards to crime rates. What was determined by the inspector general, quite rightly I might add, was that from a statistical analysis perspective, the most that an agency’s crime rate could drop would be 100% but theoretically, the most an agency’s crime rate could increase was infinite.

According to the IG’s report, a “second inaccuracy occurred when COPS addressed situations where applicant data used in some formulas required dividing by zero.” Very bad things can happen when trying to divide by zero.

Melekian told the Federal Drive a lesson has been learned here.

I think what we will do going forward is probably to work more closely with the IG and looking at the methodologies that they view as most appropriate. The folks at the COPS office, there was certainly no negligence in this. It simply was there are a variety of ways that those crime rate changes could be calculated. They selected one and the IG office felt that it was not the best, and I think going forward we will work more closely with them to prevent that.

As for the present, all 40 of the underfunded agencies have been contacted, said Melekian and “going forward into 2010, we will be making awards to them.” As for the groups that were given awards that shouldn’t have, Melekian said there’s no effort to recover those funds. He said those agencies that got money, hired police officers that were needed in those communities. “There’s nothing to be gained by trying to recover that money.”

But next time, COPS will “work closely with the IG to make sure on the front end that we’re doing everything appropriately.”

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