It’s not always good news when OMB releases guidance to agencies late on a Friday afternoon. But in this case, it was certainly welcome news! On schedule, OMB issued a memo to agencies providing FAQs and a template on how to comply with President Obama’s February directive to agencies to loosen up a bit.
President Obama’s February 2011 directive, “Administrative Flexibility, Lower Costs, and Better Results for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” instructed agencies to identify opportunities to streamline, reduce, or eliminate administrative requirements imposed on states and localities, and develop a plan of action in 180 days (August 26). I summed it up in an earlier blog post. OMB was to produce guidance to agencies on how to do so by the end of April.
That guidance is now out and it lays out what it learned from its consultations with state and local officials as well as offering a template for how agencies should prepare their plans.
The strategic advice from states and localities:
- Focus “on areas where increased flexibility could drive the most significant improvements.”
- Collaborate with “officials with authority to act.”
- Invite state, local and tribal governments “to bring forward visions and solutions” on how programs can be more effective.
- Experiment with new approaches and avoid “one size fits all” approaches.
Key Elements of Agency Plans. OMB says agency plans should be “guided by the following objectives:”
- Improve cross-agency and cross-government collaborative processes, for example “identify opportunities to consolidate and support unified applications and reporting for multiple programs with similar goals.”
- Clearly define outcomes to be achieved by any proposed new flexibility.
- Focus on high impact opportunities, where flexibility offers the greatest benefit.
- Increase transparency, for example, “clarify and disseminate existing flexibilities available.”
- Eliminate duplicative and unnecessary reporting by identifying opportunities to consolidate and share data across programs and agencies.
- “Identify administrative and regulatory barriers that impede coordinating or blending funding streams from multiple Federal programs and agencies. . . ”
- Mitigate risks of removing barriers: “. . .grant some flexibility on a conditional basis.”
OMB will lead an interagency working group to review its own policies. It will also launch another interagency group to explore options that may be available under existing law to support Pay for Success proposals requested by states, localities, and tribes.
Meanwhile, agencies will need to designate a senior lead official to coordinate agency responses to requests for flexibility and to respond to OMB.
FAQs accompanying the OMB guidance. The FAQs have a few interesting highlights:
- OMB clarifies it is not looking for a complete inventory of where flexibilities could be granted, but rather: “select three to five high impact areas.”
- What happens when requests for waivers are based on misconceptions of constraints in current rules? OMB recommends agencies pre-empt. They should “activity disseminate clarifications” on flexibilities already available under existing programs.
- OMB offers several cross-agency initiatives already underway as potential areas for focus by agencies:
- Workforce development
- Sustainable communities
- Integrated human service delivery
- Cost allocation and audit requirements
- Types of flexibilities agencies should consider include: unified application and reporting processes for multiple programs, and electronic reporting of data.
Graphic credit: NicheFinder