In 2001, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was awarding six cities grants of up to $150,000 apiece to combat youth gang violence. The six—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Louisville, Ky., Lakewood, Wash., and the District of Columbia—were supposed to use the money to develop anti-gang programs. Another round of grants the same size, enabling the cities to implement the plans, were to follow the next year.

Five of the cities took the feds’ money and launched their plans. The Lakewood police department, for instance, has enrolled more than 20 gang members in a rehabilitation program backed by the federal funds. San Francisco has launched a Critical Incidents Support Team in neighborhoods with high gang activity. Los Angeles is using the money to provide counseling and support to East L.A. gang members.

The District, however, has yet to use a dime. Even as police Chief Charles Ramsey has declared a “crime emergency” in response to gang warfare, the $300,000 in anti-gang money languishes in layers of bureaucracy.

“The grant is still open, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing,” says a Justice Department spokesperson, who says department policy forbids her to give a name for attribution.

A plan for what to do with the money is nearly completed, says Janice Sullivan, director of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Office of Youth Violence Intervention and Prevention. But Sullivan says she can’t discuss the specifics until the funding gets freed up and the plan is finished.

Grant managers blame the delays on the series of regulations that city officials have had to penetrate to use the funds. “If I was in the private sector and I got an award from the federal government, I could start spending it right away,” says Sampson Annan, director of resource development in the police department’s Office of Organizational Development. “That is absolutely not the case in Washington, D.C.”

The first hurdle the effort encountered, Annan says, was Congress. In 2001, when the Justice Department offered the funding in May, the District could not spend money without congressional approval. So the funds couldn’t be used until winter, after the new D.C. budget had been passed.

The next problem involved the nonprofit D.C. Community Partnership, the group that had partnered with the police in applying for the grant. Believing they had permission from the Justice Department to go ahead, members of the D.C. Community Partnership completed about 70 percent of the assessment work outlined in the grant.

Officially, however, the group was working without a contract—which meant the Metropolitan Police Department had to submit paperwork to the Office of Contracts and Procurement asking it to ratify the work that had already been done. At the same time, the police also had to justify to the contracts office why it was working with one specific nonprofit instead of holding a competition among multiple bidders. (The law has since been changed, so that nonprofits approved by the federal government do not need to go through a second approval process.)

“We expect the first round of funding to be released in the next 90 days,” says Sullivan. “But it could take much longer.” CP

More from WCP