It’s Time To Bust Some Myths About How States Can Use Federal Funds

Agencies could help governors, mayors and other local leaders address pressing social issues by clearing up misunderstandings.

How can federal agencies help governors, mayors and other local leaders craft innovative solutions to pressing policy challenges, even in an era of flat or declining funding? A remarkable finding from the Federal Performance Partnership Pilots for Disconnected Youth (P3) initiative suggests a way: Federal agencies can unleash creative new approaches simply by myth busting, meaning working with states and localities to correct misunderstandings about the flexibility they already have when using federal funds.

First, some quick background on P3. To help states and localities bridge programmatic silos to serve disconnected youth (young people who are not in school and not working), in 2014 Congress authorized several federal agencies to enter into agreements with up to 10 states, regions, localities, or tribal communities per year. The agreements provide sites with additional flexibility in using federal funds across multiple programs in exchange for being held accountable for achieving specific youth outcomes.

Strikingly, just putting a federal process in place to respond to requests for flexibility from P3 sites removed about one-third of the barriers preventing those sites from innovating and operating more efficiently—without even tapping the additional flexibility that Congress provided. That finding is consistent with what the Education Department learned with its “Ed-Flex” initiative in the 1990s: simply creating a process to review and respond to requests for flexibility removed a third of the barriers—no new waiver authority needed.

How could this be? Federal programs, it turns out, often provide more flexibility than states and localities realize. What a mayor or governor might see as an insurmountable constraint to innovation might actually be a myth: federal programs may already allow funds to be used or combined in the ways a mayor or governor wants. What was lacking was a reasonable way for them to find this out.

Every federal agency should draw from the lesson of P3 and Ed-Flex and create a “myth-busters” team. The team would provide timely responses to state, local and tribal requests to implement multiple federal programs in a coordinated way. For example, a mayor’s office might ask if their city can launch a new initiative that combines federal funds, or adjusts eligibility rules, to better serve a specific target population—say, people addicted to opioids. The myth-busters team would let the office know. If the answer is no, the team would try to identify other federal resources the city could use to achieve its goals. Myth busting is not about bending the rules, but rather about transparency and problem solving.

Establishing federal myth busters would be low-cost, since their role would be to provide accurate and timely information and advice, not additional funding. And by unleashing more effective and efficient strategies to address stubborn policy problems, the payoffs would be significant. The myth-buster positions would easily pay for themselves, many times over.  

Creating Flexibility

While myth busting initiatives could address many of the barriers to state and local innovation, the rest will require new federal flexibility. That is why Congress should launch a P3-type initiative in every priority area of social policy, from improving early education to reducing recidivism. It is an approach that has broad political appeal, given its focus on flexibility and accountability for results, as well as its safeguards for vulnerable populations. In fact, P3 has enjoyed strong support from both Republicans and Democrats and across three separate appropriation subcommittees.

Together, agency myth busting and expansion of the P3 approach could help modernize programs implemented at the state and local levels. Today many of those programs are overly prescriptive, focused on compliance rather than outcomes, and generally have few incentives for continuous improvement through the use of evidence and data. Because a significant portion of federal policy is implemented at the state and local levels, making government more results focused cannot simply be achieved by changing or reorganizing internal federal operations. It will also require ensuring that state and local partners have the ability and incentive to focus on results.

Andrew Feldman is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Children and Families. He previously served at the White House Office of Management and Budget in the Obama Administration.

Thaddeus Ferber is a Vice President at the Forum for Youth Investment, which advocated for and helped bring about the P3 legislation. He is the author of the Forum’s report, “Transforming Government, Transforming Communities: Strengthening the Federal Workforce to Help Communities Implement Place-Based Initiatives.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.