The text below is from the BETTER Project and can be found here.
This work is a set of three publications published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government:
- Full Report: Improving Outcomes
- White Paper: Improving Transparency
- White Paper: Improving Operational Quality
The grants management landscape has changed over the past few decades, with new laws, administrative processes, technologies, and expectations for increasing the use of data and evidence to boost the impact of federal programs. The priorities of the Biden-Harris administration and the enormous influx of grant dollars to address the health and economic impacts of the pandemic make this an especially opportune time to rethink and reframe how the federal government manages grant programs.
The report, “Federal Grants Management: Improving Outcomes,” argues that the federal grants management system needs to shift from an emphasis on administrative matters to one focused on improving outcomes, informed by analyses that suggest the right places to focus. It argues further that this will require rethinking the roles and responsibilities of the many diffuse and dispersed players in federal grant and related programs. For example, this would mean identifying “outcome brokers” for every grant program’s objectives. They would be responsible for coordinating and, where necessary, catalyzing efforts that inform where to focus, find ways to improve, and successfully encourage adoption of increasingly effective practices.
The report proposes designating a leader to serve in this role who may work in the grant program or elsewhere, noting that this represents a very different role than the administrative, fiscal, and compliance roles performed by most grant program officials currently identified by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. In addition, designating outcome brokers—and where appropriate, outcome improvement teams—for grant programs would support cross-program collaboration and learning, both to improve grants outcomes and to improve grant efficiency as well as other aspects of operational quality.
The report offers a blueprint to improve grant outcomes both short and long term, offering specific recommendations for multiple participants in the federal grants management system. These participants include federal policy, program, regional, and oversight officials; grant recipients; and nongovernmental allies supportive of program goals.
While this report is targeted to federal policy makers and grants managers, it is likely to offer leaders at all levels of government in the U.S. and abroad—and possibly private sector funders— a useful set of actions to consider to improve the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and equity of their programs, make wiser resource allocation decisions, and operate more seamlessly to serve citizens and their communities.
Two companion white papers complement this report. One white paper on “Federal Grants Management: Improving Transparency” examines ways to improve grant program transparency and discusses why communication is so essential to improving grant outcomes and operational quality, accountability (democratic, mutual, and performance), and public understanding of and trust in government. The second white paper on “Federal Grants Management: Improving Operational Quality” describes ways to improve grant program operational quality, including service quality and stewardship (cost-effectiveness, wise risk and bias management.)
Dr. Shelley Metzenbaum was the founding President of the Volcker Alliance and served as the Associate Director of Performance and Personnel Management at the Office of Management and Budget. She is also an Academy Fellow and Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Systems Standing Panel.