Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) are critical components of furthering a fair and just society. The Biden Administration has made DEIA a key guiding principle, requiring its full consideration in the Federal workforce by Executive Order 14035 on June 25, 2021. But how will that impact the grants community? In December 2022, the National Academy of Public Administration hosted its regular Grants Management Symposium. This session brought together three federal agencies and a local government official from a large city to discuss how DEIA impacts agencies as they manage the multitude of federal grants that keep our nation running. The speakers identified issues and offered their thoughts on how agencies can address them.
The Main Issues
From a DEIA perspective, the issues around grants management seem to boil down to a few main areas:
- Non-standardized forms inside and outside of federal agencies complicate the management of programs funded by more than one funding source
- Overly complex and long Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOS)
- Including evaluation requirements in NOFOs makes smaller applicants less likely to apply even though they may operate closer to and with a deeper understanding of target populations and the problems to be addressed
- Scarce staff, especially career staff, and budget to do grants work, especially related to DEIA
These issues align with the findings of the Academy’s Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships (the Center) when assessing various intergovernmental activities.
What the Center hears, and what our panelists relayed, is that these grant applications are generally known to be burdensome, even for small-stake opportunities. When it comes to applying for, using, and reporting on a grant related to large-scale infrastructure projects, such as those found inside the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the complexity only increases. Communities, especially those underresourced, less experienced with grants, or with limited capacity, pass on opportunities simply because the initial paperwork or match requirements are intimidating or infeasible.
However, the speakers expressed hope for future improvements and noted some actions already underway to address these and similar issues.
The Rectifying Actions
Panelists identified several actions that state, local, and federal agencies could take to overcome these obstacles:
- Provide more modern tools, technical assistance, and training, especially to smaller entities that more efficiently reach disenfranchised communities
- Use smaller localities and NGOs to understand better and connect with communities that do not or fail to participate
- Make documents and NOFOs easier to find and understand
- Increase program efficiency by encouraging and supporting cross-agency/program collaboration/coordination organized around outcomes, people, and/or places
- Incorporate a DEIA lens into the state, local, Tribal, and territorial (SLTT) budgets and grant applications/programs
- Establish one office for equity, performance management, and innovation
- Reduce administrative burdens of compliance
- Ensure the grant-writing team brings various perspectives to discussion and decision making
- Integrate DEIA into all business practices
All these actions could lead to transformative change in how federal agencies distribute and support grants and the communities that depend upon them. However, panelists emphasized that the last step is the most significant because integrating DEIA into business practices at the federal, SLTT, and private sectors is vital for long-term change. Equity is not a “zero-sum” game, and improvements to DEIA often improve an organization’s overall quality of life. Understanding that DEIA is not a one-size-fits-all problem helps government support each stakeholder more effectively and improves public trust in governance.
There are many ways our society can improve its current circumstances, but considering DEIA and general equity is a great place to start, not just in the grants community.