Analysis of the 2006-07 Budget Bill
Legislative Analyst's Office
The Office of Emergency Services (OES) is responsible for assuring the stateís readiness to respond to and recover from natural and man-made emergencies. During an emergency, the office functions as the Governorís immediate staff to coordinate the stateís responsibilities under the Emergency Services Act. It also coordinates federal assistance for natural disaster grants. Since 2003-04, OESís Law Enforcement and Victim Services (LEVS) division has administered criminal justice grant programs formerly managed by the Office of Criminal Justice Planning (OCJP). Funding for the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) is also included in the OES budget.
The budget proposes to spend approximately $1.1†billion in support of OES in 2006-07. Almost $900†million of this amount is from federal funds, primarily local assistance funding for disaster assistance and homeland security grants.
Preparing for Disasters and Homeland Security. The administration has previously proposed the creation of OHS as a separate state entity. In anticipation of administration-sponsored legislation to establish OHS as an autonomous entity effective January 1, 2007, the OES budget includes only half-year support of OHS ($170†million). The remaining half-year funding is shown in a new budget item (0685). We discuss this proposal and the administrationís other disaster preparedness proposals in ďPart VĒ of The 2006-07 Budget: Perspectives and Issues.
We withhold recommendation on the departmentís Law Enforcement and Victim Services division, pending review of a plan to address accounting concerns.
Accounting Problems Continue. Beginning January 1, 2004, the departmentís LEVS division has been administering grants formerly managed by OCJP. Due to weaknesses in OCJPís accounting records, OES encountered a number of serious problems. These problems included the inability to match expenditures with grant amounts and violations of federal grant management requirements. As a result, the federal government froze its grant monies for a time (two federal grants remain frozen). In addition, the Department of Financeís (DOFís) Office of State Audits and Evaluations completed an audit in February 2005 which attempted to reconstruct OCJPís accounting records. These problems have caused ongoing problems in OESí accounting efforts, particularly for the LEVS grants. The OESí problems have been exacerbated by vacancies in its budget and accounting units. For instance, the department reports that, for a short time, the budget unit was 100†percent vacant. Consequently, at the time this analysis was prepared, the department had been unable to close out its 2004-05 financial statements. The Governorís budget displays several appropriations that may have been over-obligated in 2004-05. Since it has been unable to finalize its financial statements, the exact amounts of any such over-obligations are still unknown.
Department Developing Plan. In response to these problems, the department has taken a number of steps. For example, the department hired a consultant to provide short-term support and identify recommendations for improvement. The OES has also made efforts to fill its numerous vacancies. In addition, the department has been working with staff from DOF and the State Controller to close out its 2004-05 financial statements. The department has committed to developing a specific action plan to track necessary tasks, progress, and deadlines.
Withhold Recommendation. We are encouraged that the department is taking its accounting problems seriously and is in the process of developing a detailed action plan to resolve them. To date, the magnitude of any appropriation over-obligations is still unknown. We withhold recommendation on the LEVS budget pending review of the action plan.
We recommend the deletion of (1) a $6†million General Fund request for grants to enhance or establish local Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement teams and (2) a $1.1†million request from the Victim-Witness Fund to extend victim-witness support services to parole revocation hearings. Neither proposal is well developed. (Reduce Item 0690-002-0001 by $300,000, Item 0690-002-0425 by $94,000, Item 0690-102-0001 by $5.7†million , and Item 0690-102-0425 by $1†million.)
Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Teams. The Governorís budget proposes $6†million in General Fund support for Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) teams. This includes $5.7†million in local assistance, with the remainder used to support new OES staff to administer the program. Chapter†1090, Statutes of 2002 (AB 1858, Hollingsworth), authorizes these teams as partnerships between local, state, and federal law enforcement to (1) proactively monitor habitual sexual offenders and (2) collect data to determine if proactive law enforcement is effective in reducing violent sexual assault offenses. No state appropriation accompanied the bill. This proposal would provide General Fund support to enhance existing local and regional teams and to establish programs in counties where they do not already exist. Funding would be allocated to counties with 200 or more registered sex offenders (about 40 counties) based on each countyís proportionate share of the offending population.
Victim-Witness Services for Parole Revocation Hearings. The OESís LEVS division currently administers the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, which funds every county to operate comprehensive victim-witness assistance centers that provide support services to victims and witnesses during criminal proceedings. Victim advocates guide victims through the court process, help victims receive restitution, provide crisis intervention, and make referrals to counseling and community services. The administration proposes to establish a $1†million grant program to assist counties in extending services to victims and witnesses that choose to participate in parole revocation hearings. The administrationís stated objective is to increase victim-witness participation in such hearings, with the goal of sending more parolees back to state prison for crimes committed while on parole. Funding for this program would come from the Victim-Witness Fund, which is funded by criminal fines.
Proposals Fail to Provide Important Details. For both proposals, the administration was unable to provide even the most basic information regarding the proposed grants. Regarding the SAFE teams, the administration was unable to provide information about how many such programs currently exist and how they are currently funded. In addition, Chapter†1090 specifically requires SAFE teams to collect data regarding their effectiveness. Yet, the administration could not provide any such data or analysis documenting the teamsí level of success to date. The proposal also fails to demonstrate why state funding is necessary if the teams have been operating for the past several years without any state assistance. Similarly, the proposal to expand the witness assistance program fails to answer basic questions. The administration could not identify the current rate at which victims and witnesses attend parole revocation hearings or the extent to which the local assistance centers already provide these services. The proposal also does not identify the expected improvement in participation, how funding would be distributed, or the broader impact such participation is expected to have on criminal recidivism.
Added Workload for Struggling Division. As noted above, the LEVS division is struggling to meet basic budgeting and accounting standards. The department asserts that adding two new grant programs would not further impair its progress in resolving these problems. Realistically, however, the financial problems will require ongoing attention by the departmentís executive management for the next several years. The department should be focused on meeting basic accounting and budgeting standards, rather than the development of new grant programs.
Recommend Rejecting the Administrationís Proposals. We recommend the Legislature reject the administrationís proposals for SAFE teams and expanded witness assistance services as neither proposal is well developed.