- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

A high-ranking Justice Department official gave special treatment to groups that treated him to rounds of golf and expensive dinners, according to a House committee report.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

During a committee hearing Thursday, Mr. Flores defended himself.

“While some may disagree with my decisions, they were made in accordance with the law, within department rules and in good faith to address the needs of our children who find themselves in the juvenile justice system or at risk of contact with it,” he said.

According to the report, Mr. Flores was responsible for awarding 10 grants totaling $8.6 million to groups engaged in juvenile justice initiatives. The Justice Department received 104 proposals, which staff members rated and recommended, funding the 18 highest-scoring proposals.

Mr. Flores passed over the six top-rated proposals and eventually chose only five proposals recommended by his staff. According to the report, he chose five other programs his staff had designated as “not recommended.”

The “not recommended” proposals received 50.2 percent, or $4.32 million, of the grants.

Mr. Flores testified that the rating system simply evaluated the proposals, not the worthiness of the programs. He said some high-rated programs weren’t funded because they duplicated efforts or received funding from other sources.

Democrats on the committee attacked Mr. Flores for his associations with two of those groups, the World Golf Association’s First Tee program.

Best Friends Foundation is an abstinence-only education program that teaches strategies to avoid sex, drugs and alcohol. The founder and president of the group is President Bush.

Ranked 53 out of 104, Best Friends was the lowest-rated program to receive a grant. Staff members criticized the group’s proposal for being poorly written, having no focus and lacking a coherent theme.

According to the report, Mr. Flores, along with his wife, his special assistant and her husband, attended a $500-per-plate fundraiser for the foundation, which paid for the tickets. Mr. Flores had received an opinion from the Office of General Counsel before the event that approved his attendance.

Mr. Flores awarded the group $1.1 million.

He suggested Thursday that the foundation’s abstinence-only stance is the reason for the House panel’s scrutiny. In a written statement to the committee, Mr. Flores said he did not receive any pressure from the White House to award the grant.

“The reason we funded Best Friends was because they were doing a tremendous job keeping girls in school, keeping them from getting pregnant, keeping them from engaging in substance-abuse activities,” he said.

Mr. Flores received similar criticism from some members for awarding $500,000 to the World Golf Foundation’s First Tee program, which aims to teach children golf and life skills.

Staff members ranked the program 47 out of 104.

At the group’s yearly meeting in 2006 in Florida, Mr. Flores golfed but didn’t pay a greens fee. He paid the $159 fee Wednesday.

Under questioning, Mr. Flores said he had asked for a bill, made follow-up calls and paid it as soon as he received it.

Despite being chided by Democrats on the committee, Mr. Flores was not without Republican supporters Thursday.

“These are subjective judgment calls,” said Virginia, the committee’s ranking Republican. “That’s not waste, fraud and abuse. That’s just a difference of opinions.”

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