Thursday, May 5, 2011

OMB Requests Plans for Increasing Administrative Flexibility in Federal Programs

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently issued a memorandum to all heads of federal agencies about improving federal program outcomes through greater administrative flexibility in those programs that are implemented at the state and local level. This an enormous opportunity for local communities to influence local governmental by lifting up your experience about what has worked on the ground and what federal requirements have served as obstacles and barriers to getting the results that are needed in your community.

In the memo, OMB asked federal agencies to report back to them by August 29, 2011 with their plans for how to offer greater flexibility, particularly where it will result in improved outcomes at lower costs. These plans must be developed in consultation with the state, local, and tribal governments that are implementing these programs. OMB outlines several issues that those plans should address, including:
  • Better processes for cross-agency and cross-government collaboration. How can agencies work together to respond rapidly to state and local requests to implement innovative, cost-effective approaches? How can agencies work together to negotiate parameters around these opportunities?
  • Clearly defined program outcomes. What are the outcomes that should be pursued under the new flexibility proposals?
  • A focus on areas where additional flexibility could bring the most benefit. What programmatic and policy areas would additional flexibility have the most impact?
  • Clear criteria and transparent processes for considering these requests for flexibility. How would this criteria be disseminated?
  • Robust and authoritative data in the context of ensuring accountability to outcomes. What capacity do agencies and state and local partners have to generate the level of data needed for real-time decision making and ensuring accountability to outcomes?
  • Barriers to cost effectiveness, particularly those that impede coordinating or blending funding streams from multiple federal agencies as well as other funding sources. How could these barriers be addressed through regulatory or statutory changes?

OMB asks that in creating their plans, federal agencies focus on those strategies that improve outcomes and not just process and to find ways to empower their state and local partners to help in providing. OMB also discourages trying to come up with one size fits all models.

We know that many communities have grappled with these issues and have good ideas for how these barriers can be addressed. Recently, CSSP hosted a listening session in which school district leaders shared their efforts to integrate high quality academic programs, and supportive health and social services with broader neighborhood revitalization efforts. They identified several ways in which federal programs and policies present barriers to this work, many of the same that OMB asks agencies to address, including how funding silos discourage integration and collaboration and how the focus on process and compliance rather than outcomes stifles innovation.

Fortunately, the Administration appears willing to be flexible in working with state and local partners when it will lead to improved outcomes. We saw this most recently from the Department of Education when they released guidance on existing flexibility that and state and local education agencies have in using Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds. The OMB memo creates a new opportunity for making changes across agencies through new and innovate mechanisms to create flexibility and increase cost effectiveness with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes.

We encourage communities to begin working with your local partners to influence this process by lifting up your solutions to your state/local officials and marshalling the data you have to address the key questions raised in the OMB memo.

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