Letter from Congresswoman Virginia Foxx responding to a letter from me below
.Thank you for contacting me with your experience as chair of the North Carolina Planning Council. As you are well aware, I believe that it is important for me to hear from constituents and I appreciate your taking the time to share your insights with me.
We agree that block grants can be beneficial when appropriately
managed. Likewise, we share a concern about the impact of poorly managed block grants. Had I been in your situation, I would have been as frustrated as you were at the intractable bureaucracy. I also share your concerns about working people and ask myself every time I am asked to vote for an appropriations bill whether spending their hard-earned money is the right thing to do.
You may be interested to know that I have recently introduced legislation that relates to this issue. On January 29, 2018, I introduced the bipartisan Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act that will streamline federal grant reporting
This note is about block granting. I am assuming there will be more of it under this administration so I wanted to share my experience as chair of the North Carolina Planning Council overseeing block grants. Not all of which was positive.
First of all, I am a big believer in block granting. Also, I am a believer in civilian oversight committees of the grants.
Soon after starting my tenure on the Council, I quickly observed that as far as the mental health staff were concerned, we were merely window dressing. Trying to make ourselves into what the law anticipated, was not going to be easy–maybe downright impossible.
On paper the makeup of the committee looked rational–half heads of departments and half stake holders. But here is the wrinkle. The department heads went shoulder to shoulder. They were not going to let outsiders to the party. So, they always covered each others’ back sides. On the stakeholder side, because of their personal experiences with the system, they brought some truly refreshing insights. However, as you can imagine, as a very vulnerable population, they caved quickly against such big guns.
These department heads would not be at the top if they were not consummate artists at finessing. Each meeting (I found this true when I was on the State Commission.) they presented their little dog and pony show to impress the stake holders. At least we stakeholders were finally able to cut the time from three days to a day in a half, saving the tax payers money.
Every time I drove to Raleigh, as I witnessed all the little trucks and the blue collar workers, I would think about how their tax payers money was being used. I wanted to weep.
Anyway, to cut this short, I will give you a couple of typical illustrations and then hang it up. The first went like this. The legislature awarded one program director one million dollars for what really was a worthwhile project. He then proceeded to outline to us all the staff he was hiring and the money to be spent on setting up his offices. Then as usual, he would send his staff out for a needs study.
Some of us raised the question of why spend all that money for a needs study. We felt because the legislators had given the money, every one knew it was needed. So, we suggested that if they were going to be sending high paid staff all over the state, why not combine training with it at the same time and save a lot of money. Looking at the faces of the department heads you would think that someone had broken wind in church. Who the hell did we think we were!
The second illustration was how I learned how expert bureaucrats are at finessing. I was not in their class. One of the positive parts of the law, besides forcing states to draw up overall plans, was to send us chairs to Washington. There we got to evaluate other states’ plans. It was in that process I learned which states were using their planning councils according to the intent of the law.
The officials in Washington knew our local story so when I approached them with the idea of coming to North Carolina and sharing with the Council what planning councils can do when they were done correctly, they were eager to do so. However, I would need to get the Division head’s OK..
When I approached the Division head, he was very enthusiastic about the idea. A few days later, I received a call from his office: "Don, we have just noted that your tenure has ended." (In the past, chairs had always served until they were tired of the job.) The Washington visit was DOA. Anyway, I never went back.
Once an assistant division head said to me "Don, I know you are frustrated, but you need to know the director believes block grants are his pocket money."
Anyway Virginia, perhaps you can give some thought to these problems and with Secretary DeVos make civilian oversight committees more than window dressing. There were planning councils which were working properly. There are stakeholders who really do know something. Also, I have been away for awhile and perhaps things have improved.