November 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm #146700
Competive Grants are now en vogue as a means of providing Federal funds to state and local agencies, etc. Does anyone know of any studies of the pros and cons of using Competive Grants versus other methods of selecting projects and regions for funding?
It seems that often there are signfiicant burdens and hoops that must be met in order to apply, win and then measure performance and then track the results of the grant dollars. In today’s world of fiscal constraints there is often a huge demand for very limited funding resulting in many more applications than can be accomodated with the available funds. For example, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation recently reported that the demand for the $527 million TIGER III program far exceeded the available funds. 828 applications totaling $14.1 billion were received (26.75 times available funds). For TIGER I & II: 2,400 applications were received, totaling $76 billion – with $2.1 billion available (36.2 times).
I’m specifically interested in any analysis of whether competitive grants increase the divide between have and have nots, or those that are technology pioneers and those that aren’t, and how they may impact the local decision making process. Do they subvert, or reinforce, existing requirements such as the Federal 3c transportation planning process?
November 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm #146706
It should be pointed out that the surge in competitive grants is due in large part to the moratorium on earmarks.
Today in a roundtable discussion at the Transportation Policy Summit through the University of Va’s Miller Center Panelists raised the issue that while we went overboard in the past maybe earmarks were not all that bad. They helped get the reauthorizations passed. However, some sort of performance or results based criteria are needed.
December 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm #146704
The fed agencies that do the transportation funding do both competitive and formula grants typically. I think it is a balancing act, much like the house and senate is supposed to be. One is regulated by the 2 per state rule. The other is regulated by the “based on population” rule. TIGER III funds will be fought over but so will a bunch of others. In the Federal Transit Administration, for example, there are around eight programs available to folks in specific categories, like Job Access or Rural Transit. These programs provide funds to folks who might not be able to compete for the 13 or so competitive grant programs. Even the competitive ones have different focuses that make the whole more equitable. There are programs focused on University transit, Tribal transit, and lots of others.
I think having folks jump through hoops to get the funds (and to keep them) makes them think through the process a lot more and maybe make better decisions overall. I seem to recall hearing that once upon a time, congress would grant funds to a big city and then never check back to see that it was spent on what it was supposed to be spent on. Earmarks were a way to get funding for things people didn’t feel like talking about so when they couldn’t get a transportation bill out they could still get funds for transportation. It seems like folks on the hill work better when we don’t know and can’t see what they are doing. The transparency is making them visible and responsible and who wants that?! (tongue firmly in cheek).
Unless radical changes are going to be made (unlikely) getting large, important, infrastructure type funding out to folks is going to be tough but necessary to keep all of us moving (metaphorically and otherwise).
Oh, and to be open and transparent, I’m a contractor to a Department of Transportation agency and formerly to other agencies within DOT and I’m speaking on my own behalf only, not for my contracting company nor any Fed agency I currently or formerly have worked with.
December 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm #146702
Excellent points ! I certainly agree that oversight is needed (including performance monitoring) on any funding program and especially earmarks if they come back. I’m starting to think however that someone needs to provide guidance or lessons learned on how to develop and manage good competitive grant programs and processes. It seems to me that there are some poorly designed ones starting to show up.
AND. Ditto. I too work for contractor to a Department of Transportation agency and formerly to other agencies within DOT and I’m speaking on my own behalf only, not for my contracting company nor any Fed agency I currently or formerly have worked with.
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