by Steve Payne, NASCSP Board President
Colleges and universities have done it for years. So have auto mechanics and insurance agents. Now even nail salons do it. Do what? Get accredited, licensed, or otherwise stamped as approved. And now we’re all going to do it as well. The President’s 2013 budget due for release on February 13th will almost certainly once again recommend reducing CSBG by 50% and transforming it from a formula-based program to a competitive grant program. The Administration believes Community Action has had 47 years to get it right, but hasn’t demonstrated yet that it fights poverty effectively. The underlying assumption is that this network is obsolete and ineffective. Obviously, we know we’re effective, but we now must demonstrate that effectiveness through the Administration’s forthcoming accreditation process. Let’s speak plainly. The adoption of evidence-based practices and outcome-driven programs isn’t just a passing fad, nor is it an empty threat held over us as an incidental part of some larger political strategy. We must accept that it is our field’s “new normal” under this or any likely subsequent administration. At NASCSP, we want to make sure that accreditation is done fairly and gives the Administration an accurate picture of what we really do, so we’ve rolled up our sleeves and joined the fray.
The funny thing about accreditation in any field is that it has no choice but to compare apples and oranges and decide which ones make the grade. Just as each college has a unique mission within higher education, so the CSBG legislation allows for a very broad range of activities that “address the causes of poverty” and there’s a correspondingly broad range of outcomes to assess. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Some States use CSBG funds to create new programs, some to support existing programs, others to provide the organizational infrastructure necessary to coordinate and enhance a wide variety of programs in response to local needs. And some of us do all of the above. However, this versatility is hard to defend if we can’t figure out how to meaningfully quantify the results of our varied efforts.
In fulfilling the President’s call for injecting competition into CSBG grants, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly reached out to this Network for input on creating the system to determine our own success at eliminating poverty. NASCSP, the Community Action Partnership and other national partners sat down with officials from HHS to discuss the future of CSBG and Community Action. Right away we established a working group to formulate specific recommendations to provide HHS. The group, comprised of State CSBG Directors, local Community Action Agencies, and state associations determined that the foundational elements for a formalized structure of measuring accountability and performance already exists in Results Oriented Management and Accountability, the Pathways to Excellence Program, State monitoring tools, and other management and performance-based outcome measures we’re already using in some form or another. So the group built on these existing tools to create an innovative accreditation model that will enable Community Action to demonstrate its accountability using a structured, clearly defined framework with measurable benchmarks.
The result was the accreditation proposal draft posted last year on NASCSP’s website along with a solicitation for comment from the Network. Meanwhile, the conversation continued at the national partners’ annual conferences, and the draft was further refined. In December 2011, with input from the Working Group sub-committee chairs, NASCSP and the Community Action Partnership jointly submitted the accreditation proposal to the Administration and HHS. Why do we believe this accreditation proposal is so very important to the network at this time? Here are just a few reasons:
- We must respond to the challenge that after 47 years Community Action Agencies can’t demonstrate their success at fighting poverty.
- We must position our Network to answer any future challenges to our value and accomplishments, and indeed, even pre-empt the question.
- An accreditation system that periodically evaluates the work of Community Action is necessary to make the case for CSBG funding.
- We will be subject to an accreditation or similar system in the near future, with or without the Network’s input. We must take our seat at the table now, while it’s still open to us.
- We’ll need a national training and technical assistance system to help agencies prepare for accreditation. We need to engage in the process now so with adequate support we can get such a system up and running in the next year.
- Both to enhance our effectiveness and to shape accurate perceptions of this network, discussions that focus on our current effectiveness, not on our history, will be the most productive ones.
- We agree that we still need to have many other discussions around the issue of accountability at the federal, state, and local levels, but that’s only all the more reason to proceed quickly with this present discussion of accreditation.
- We also understand that more consideration needs to be given to tailoring the accreditation process for rural and public CAAs. Again, that’s all the more reason to get on with the discussion at hand.
We need to hear from you as we continue to fine-tune the accreditation proposal. As you review it, please consider the following:
- Does this proposal help us answer the challenge of whether or not we’re successfully ending poverty?
- Does this proposal help us demonstrate our accountability?
- Does it provide a tool for increasing the performance of our Network as we strive to improve outcomes?
Thanks for your contribution to what I’m sure will one day be regarded as an historic and pivotal moment for the Network.