More than two years after taking office, President Obama has yet to appoint a permanent administrator to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a federal agency that funds some state-level juvenile programs and ensures federal standards are being met. The delay has been caused, in part, by a bill removing the Senate confirmation requirement for this and hundreds of other executive branch appointments. The bill has passed the Senate, but has yet to go in front of the House of Representatives for a vote.
The measure, S. 697, also known as the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011, received support from both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before being passed by the Senate in June.
The push to remove Senate confirmation for the OJJDP top position has been strongly opposed in some quarters.
“We have been advocating for a permanent administrator since the first day of the Obama administration,” said Tara Andrews, deputy executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, an advocacy group in Washington. “That office is small in terms of the federal budget, but in terms of its influence, it is huge.”
Andrews went on to say a permanent OJJDP administrator can drive best practices as well as identify those programs that do not work. She added a permanent administrator also has a platform to broadcast to the nation where progress in the area of juvenile justice can be made.
After the Bush administration, Andrews said, there was a sense that the office would garner more support, but the feeling is, that has not come to pass under the Obama administration.
“We are disappointed,” said Andrews.
OJJDP’s Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski will likely continue to head the agency at least until the House votes on the measure sometime after returning from recess next month.
“Since they are on recess for a month there will be no movement at the earliest until they return,” Joe Vignati, Director of Justice Programs at the Governor's Office for Children and Families in Atlanta, wrote in an e-mail. “Honestly we are probably going to hit 1000 days [without a permanent administrator] before we get someone new.”
Slowikowski served as associate administrator of OJJDP's Demonstration Programs Division from 2004 until being designated acting administrator by President Obama in January 2009.
“The acting administrator has done a really good job … but he doesn’t have the clout,” said Marion Mattingly, Washington Editor of Juvenile Justice Update.
Mattingly, who also opposes the change, added that, “the office really needs someone who was appointed by the president. [The loss of oversight] is bad because I think it lessens the importance of juvenile justice. I worry what the next step could be.”
That sentiment was echoed earlier this year when Youth Today quoted former OJJDP Administrator Shay Bilchik as saying, “as a candidate for the job, you don’t understand what it means to the field and the constituencies to have that direct oversight [of a] committee in the U.S. Congress, so the field can weigh in, in a very powerful way regarding who gets that position. Once it becomes simply a political appointment you lose that visibility and that transparency.”
Spanning the last two presidencies, the OJJDP has seen a steep decline in funding from a budget of $450 million in 2002, to approximately $180 million in 2011, according to numbers from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. In a recent survey by the same organization, 89 percent of the 35 states examined reported a reduction in youth and family services due to federal budget reductions.
“If you’re serious about crime you need to concentrate on kids … It’s most important to deal with kids and prevent them from becoming adult criminals,” Mattingly added. “Most people just see it as a simple thing, but juvenile justice is anything but simple.”