Laurie Robinson on Justice Grants
By Ryan J. Reilly | January 4, 2022 4:43 pm
Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

NPR’s Ari Shapiro interviewed newly installed Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Laurie Robinson about the process of awarding grants in the Obama administration. He asked her whether —  as critics charged happened during the Bush administration — she could theoretically funnel money to her favorite charity.

“Do I have the ability by law? Yes, I do. Would I do that? No, I would not,” said Robinson.

Here’s a selection from the interview below, read or listen to the whole thing at NPR.

SHAPIRO: That raises another question which is I can see where the money has gone. Can I see, for example, whether those organizations were highly rated within peer-review process?

Ms. ROBINSON: Oh, we don’t make the peer review ratings public. And one of the reasons is - I used to teach - it would be like posting all of the grades of all of the students. You know, these were all professionals in their field. Then it might be - in fact, it would be, as somebody who used to write grants, pretty embarrassing for people. Oh gosh, you know, hey, Joe you have got a pretty lousy grant application.

SHAPIRO: That makes sense. But at the same time, if somebody undeserving then is getting government money through favoritism or some other avenue, the transparency seems to stop short of somebody on the outside being able to see that this person receiving the grant money actually was not highly rated within the peer-review process.

Ms. ROBINSON: We’ve gone back and forth on that, but I think there are limits to how open one can be about this without having some pretty unfavorable results for individuals.

[...]

SHAPIRO: What have you told to people who are below you in the hierarchy to ensure that your ethos of just because I can award a million dollars to my charity doesn’t mean that it’s ethical for me to do so, to be sure that, that ethos pervades all the way down to the ranks? What have you told people?

Ms. ROBINSON: I’ve really laid down the law about the importance of competing grants so that we ensure that people who are interested in applying for grants from the Department of Justice all have an equal chance.

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