As the lame-duck session of Congress grinds to a close, policymakers are feeling the pressure to rush passage of a number of expansive, potentially faulty pieces of legislation before the year’s end. Recent rumors swirling around Washington suggest the House may consider anew language in a Senate-passed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization in the next few weeks.
Despite the original law’s good intentions to support female victims of violence, recent reauthorizations—including those before Congress—are seriously flawed and have steered the law away from its original intent of protecting vulnerable women.
As Heritage research fellow David Muhlhausen and Independent Women’s Forum visiting fellow Christina Villegas explain in a Heritage Backgrounder, the problems with the VAWA reauthorization are numerous and go well beyond the legislation’s surrender of American rights to tribal courts. The Senate-passed language engages in “mission creep” by broadening the classes of covered victims to include men and prisoners, expands already duplicative programs, and fails to authorize much-needed accountability measures—all the while increasing direct federal spending by more than $100 million.
Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice earlier this year reveal instances of fraud with some Office of Violence Against Women grants and bring into question the efficacy of programs purported to assist vulnerable women. Unallowable grant expenditures, embezzlement of federal funds, and the questionable use of nearly $1 million in Office of Violence Against Women grants in one service area should be reason enough for Congress to require more oversight of federal dollars.
Yet, the most recent VAWA reauthorization before Congress fails to demand robust accountability measures for a law the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost taxpayers $660 million from 2012 to 2016. As Muhlhausen and Villegas explain:
Nationally representative, scientifically rigorous impact evaluations should be used to determine whether these national grant programs actually produce their intended effects. Obviously, there is little merit in the continuation of programs that fail to ameliorate the social problems they target.
Instead, the Senate reauthorization of VAWA blindly expands the scope of the existing law and increases already duplicative programs, enabling the federal government to usurp more power over violence reduction efforts—work that is already taking place in local and state governments with greater success.
“Using federal agencies and grant programs to fund the routine operations of domestic violence programs that state and local governments themselves could provide is a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that truly are the province of the federal government,” Muhlhausen and Villegas explain. “Simply expanding this framework with extensive new provisions and programs that have been inadequately assessed is likely to facilitate waste, fraud, and abuse and will not better protect women or victims of violence generally.”
All victims of violence, including women, deserve adequate support and robust defense. But good intentions alone cannot fix the substantive problems with the VAWA reauthorization and will not bring the most effective, efficient protection to vulnerable women. Policymakers should demand robust evaluations of existing federal VAWA programs, reduce duplicative programs, and acknowledge that state and local governments are better equipped to effectively and efficiently address violent crimes.