The Federal Office of Community Services’ Training and Technical Assistance Plan: Connecting States and the Regional Performance Innovation Consortia

— Rae Tamblyn, Research Assistant, NASCSP —

During the 2013 NASCSP Mid-Winter Training Conference, participants had the opportunity to hear from the Office of Community Services (OCS) to learn more about their training and technical assistance (T/TA) plan and collaborative efforts among the States, state associations, and the Regional Performance Innovation Consortia (RPICs). Delia Anderson, from the Arkansas Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) State office, opened the session by saying she hoped it would enlighten the CSBG Network on federal efforts and help expand “on the role of the RPIC and how best to manage that relationship.” Panelists from OCS included Seth Hassett, Brandy RayNor, and Maria Rogers. Taura Brown Edwards and Ed Gerardot from the Indiana State office and state association, respectively, rounded out the panel.

Hassett began the session with an overview of the movement at the federal level towards organizational standards for the CSBG Network. The overall goal is to revitalize CSBG performance management and measurement, assure high standards of use of federal funds and help prepare communities to effectively address poverty issues in a dramatically changing economy. He emphasized the importance of the organizational standards to the States, saying “[OCS is] looking at refining and elevating the Results Oriented Management and Accountability (ROMA) system to a higher level and creating strong standards to make sure we are achieving excellence in the Network. This is a multi-tiered effort. We want to make sure States have the information and tools they need to do things like guide the basic performance of their agencies and serve as effective overseers of agencies’ use of funds. At all levels, we need to be accountable for our activities and our impact on the overall mission of CSBG.” Later in his presentation, Hassett noted, “We want to facilitate communication. This is where the RPICS come in. The partnership between States and state associations and community action agencies (CAAs) is a lynchpin. If those relationships are breaking down between any of those elements there is an immense level of difficultly in making an effective impact,” and the CSBG Network is not able to function as effectively.

RayNor seconded Hassett’s comments, noting that “the analysts [at OCS] are here to work with the states and RPICS to facilitate working towards high standards at all levels.” Dr. Maria Rogers further explained the role she and other Program Specialists play in the movement towards high standards, CSBG Network excellence, and effective communication, saying, “We are your voice when we report your questions and concerns to federal leadership. We support you in your mission to improve the lives of low-income people in all communities. We are your advocates and work to obtain needed resources by convincing others of the importance and impact of CSBG; we are facilitators of communication… Program specialists at Division State Assistance (DSA) [at OCS] are your voice in the federal government.” She stressed that a strong relationship between OCS, the States and the RPICs ensures “that we can work along with you and strategize ways to develop new performance measurements and standards to ensure the survival of the CSBG and all our roles in alleviating poverty.”

Gerardot and Edwards shared their experiences in facilitating communication between OCS, the State CSBG staff, and the state association. Ed Gerardot firmly stated, “We need to foster a spirit of collaboration with the state association, to be able to talk about monitoring, implantations of policy changes, to gather feedback and follow through.” He also emphasized that an “open line of communication is critical.” Edwards and Gerardot both agreed that the RPICs “are becoming more formal conduits of information to the [Centers of Excellence].” Hassett made sure to note the RPICs will not replace any roles that the State currently plays, but rather are becoming a supplementary source of information and communication, which ideally will pull more information and dialogue from the different levels of the CSBG Network into the work the various centers are conducting to enhance the CSBG Network at the local, State, and federal level.