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Posted: 10/8/2005 6:40:09 AM EDT
From Join Together
http://www.jointogether.org/sa/news/features/reader/0%2C1854%2C578396%2C00.html
Drug-Free Communities Grant Process Blasted as Political, 'Flawed'
10/6/2005

News Feature
By Bob Curley

A number of model community anti-drug coalitions lost their funding after
the federal drug czar's office threw out peer-review scores typically used
to award the <http://drugfreecommunities.samhsa.gov/>Drug-Free Communities
(DFC) grants, instead allowing a small group of in-house reviewers to use a
different set of criteria to decide who got funded, prevention field
leaders charge.

In a rare instance of public discord with the federal government,
<http://www.cadca.org>Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)
urged its members to write to President Bush and drug czar John Walters to
object to a "flawed" process for selecting the most recent grantees under
the Drug Free Communities Act.

Gen. Arthur Dean, president and CEO of CADCA, said that while all
applicants underwent the standard peer-review process and received a score,
the <http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov>Office of National Drug Control
Policy (ONDCP) -- which directs the program in partnership with the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's)
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention -- decided to throw out those scores.

ONDCP then established a small review group that judged the applicants
based on a set of 10 criteria that CADCA officials said were not fully
disclosed to the public. "We were told that SAMHSA did peer-review
everyone, but when we saw that those scores weren't used to make the
decisions ... it led us to raise these serious concerns," said Dean.

Jennifer DeVallance, an ONDCP spokesperson, said that the 2005 Drug Free
Communities grant competition "was an extremely competitive process and one
that was implemented with the highest levels of integrity."

"To suggest otherwise is to highlight an ignorance of the facts and the
unfortunate reality that resources are limited and not every applicant can
receive funds," she said.

However, ONDCP did not respond to repeated requests to explain why the
grantee scoring was discarded in favor of the new criteria, to identify the
makeup of the review committee that made the funding decisions, or to
reveal the scores of the programs that were de-funded. SAMHSA referred all
questions about the DFC process to ONDCP.

"Coalitions did not have the opportunity to respond to the specific
administrative reasons determined by ONDCP to disqualify them," said Dean.
"Grantees still have not been told the specific reasons that their grants
were determined ineligible for funding."

Politicized Process

John Carnevale, a former ONDCP planning and budget staffer and head of the
policy consulting firm Carnevale Associates, said ONDCP's decision to
involve itself in the grantmaking process went against the intent of
Congress, which he said placed DFC in the juvenile-justice program office
in the Justice Department to avoid have funding decisions colored by
politics. "By being part of the grant review process, ONDCP has politicized
the process," said Carnevale. "ONDCP is not an expert on grants review --
it's a policy shop."

CADCA issued an alert to its membership on Sept. 23 saying that in the
latest round of Drug-Free Communities grantmaking, announced by ONDCP on
Sept. 21, "63 current grantees that were eligible for continuation funding
were terminated without due process. Further, 88 other coalitions were
placed on a high-risk (probationary) status with no prior notice, and only
given 30 days to come into compliance."

"The procedure that was used to determine who would receive funding in FY
2005 undermined the confidence in the administration to conduct a fair and
impartial grant process," CADCA said in its alert, adding, "CADCA believes
that the grant process should have consistent and clear eligibility
requirements and review scores relevant to the funding determination."

CADCA urged members to write to the Bush administration to ask for a "fair
and impartial appeals process to challenge the arbitrary nature of the
decision-making process" and to ensure that "any future process used to
determine DFC grantees is fair and equitable."

Ten Criteria Instead of Scores

The 603 coalitions that applied for continuation funding were required to
comply with a list of 10 standards set forth by Congress in the original
Drug-Free Communities Act, said deVallance, such as proving that they have
nonfederal matching funds, support community-based coalitions as defined in
the funding announcement, and are addressing federal goals for the program.

"These criteria were established by Congress in the Drug-Free Communities
Act and are not new," said deVallance. "Each application was subjected to a
competitive peer-review process. If a coalition did not demonstrate
compliance with all of the criteria, they were not funded."

DeVallance said that 90 percent of coalitions applying for continuation
funding were able to demonstrate compliance; these coalitions were then
evaluated to ensure that they met the federal requirement of using a
maximum of 20 percent of federal funding for program implementation.

"Those coalitions that did not meet this criteria -- 88 of them -- were
placed on "high risk" status and given 30 days to submit a budget that
indicates compliance with the program's policy on this issue," said
DeVallance. "The "high risk" coalitions were notified in writing to this
effect. No existing coalition -- not one -- was denied funding because of
failure to meet this requirement."

Addressing one of the key complaints of coalition leaders -- that they were
not given notice of deficiencies in their applications or time to correct
them -- DeVallance said that the application period had been extended and
that coalitions had been offered technical assistance. "Additionally, those
coalitions that did not receive continuation funds are able to apply next
year without any prejudice and will have technical assistance available,"
she said.

But CADCA officials said that only six of the 10 criteria were in the
original legislation, and that some of the best coalitions in the country
lost their funding for such minor infractions as having incomplete meeting
minutes or spending one percent more than the 20 percent limit on program
implementation -- a standard they contend was loosely defined to begin
with. "If they discontinued coalitions for administrative reasons and give
the money to those with lower scores, our position is that that doesn't
track," said Dean.

Four Days from Penthouse to Outhouse

Harry Kressler, executive director of the
<http://www.pimaprevention.org/home.htm>Pima Prevention Partnership
Coalition in Pima, Ariz., said his coalition passed a SAMHSA site visit
with flying colors just four days before being notified by ONDCP that they
were losing their $100,000 DFC grant. "To be told four days later that
you're 'not a coalition' means those site visits were meaningless," said
Kressler, whose program was one of the original community partnerships
established by CSAP in 1991, and has received DFP funding for the past
seven years. "Why audit us when the findings are not used?" he asked.

Kressler said federal officials told him that Pima lost its funding because
reviewers believed that meeting minutes submitted with the coalition's
renewal application showed that the program was no longer community-based,
but rather school-based, thus making it ineligible for funding. Kressler
said reviewers may have misinterpreted discussions about a new charter
school that the coalition founded for addicted adolescents. "The [ONDCP]
criteria opened the process up to making decisions based on opinion and
interpretation, not fact," he said.

In a July 2004 letter regarding the transfer of the program from the
Justice Department to CSAP, SAMHSA and ONDCP told DFC grantees that some
changes might be put into place regarding accounting and data collection.

"However, we want to assure you that we are taking steps to ensure that
there will be no lapse in your funds, that any new requirements due to this
transfer will be minimal, that there will be no requirement to reapply or
re-compete for funds already awarded," said the letter, signed by SAMHSA
Administrator Charles Curie, Mary Ann Solberg, deputy director of ONDCP,
Keri-Lyn Coleman, ONDCP's acting administrator of the the Drug Free
Communities program, and Robert Flores, administrator of the Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the Justice Department.

However, groups like the Pima partnership were later told they had to
reapply for funding even though they had already been approved for
multiyear grants. "HHS required and ONDCP agreed that all existing grantees
reapply (this year only) for Year 2, 3, 4, or 5 funding," said ONDCP's
DeVallance.

Kressler called the concept of competitive continuation funding "an oxymoron."

"We don't know what the agenda of ONDCP is," he said, adding: "Decisions
were made in a vacuum."

The decisionmaking on DFC grants, combined with the Bush administration's
proposals to eliminate the Safe and Drug Free Schools program and cut
CSAP's budget, leads some observers to question the administration's
commitment to drug prevention. "I'm concerned that the policy of the
federal government is to get out of the prevention business," said Carnevale.

ONDCP announced $72 million in Drug Free Communities grant awards on Sept.
21, including $17.1 million for matching grants in 176 new communities and
$54 million in continuation grants to 535 existing community coalitions.
Also, $1.7 million was awarded for 24 new Drug Free Communities Support
Mentoring Programs, along with $929,470 in continuation funding for 13
existing mentoring programs.
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This article is online at http://www.jointogether.org/y/0,2521,578396,00.html

Visit <http://www.jointogether.org>www.jointogether.org for complete news
and funding coverage, resources and advocacy tools to advance effective
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attribution is made to "Join Together Online (www.jointogether.org)."
Join Together is a project of the <http://www.bumc.bu.edu/sph/>Boston
University School of Public Health.
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