OMB Report IDs Major Faults in Equity in Federal Programs

A recent report from the Office of Management and Budget to President Biden focusing on equity slams government shortfalls in a wide array of programs.

Source : C-SPAN

August 11, 2021

Author : Alex Bustillos

OMB, under the leadership of Acting Director Shalanda Young, consulted with a number of US and international experts of matters of equity including assessment and improvement, data science and “organizational-change management” and consulted with them on four topics including “(1) Equity Assessment Frameworks, Tools, and Data Analysis; (2) the Role of Administrative Burden in Inequity; (3) Approaches to Expanding stakeholder Engagement; and (4) Equity and Change Management.”

They came out with a report that includes five key findings.

The first finding was that “a broad range of assessment frameworks and data and measurement tools have been developed to assess equity, but equity assessment remains a nascent and evolving science and practice.”

The second finding of the study was that administrative burden tends to increase inequality. “These burdens include time spent on applications and paperwork, but also factors like time spent traveling to in-person visits, answering notices and phone calls to verify eligibility, navigating web interfaces, and collecting any documentation required to prove eligibility,” the report states.

The report recommends a “government-wide” audit of administrative burdens to identify “points resulting in drop-off.”

A really good example of this problem is noted in the report. Last year, more than 14 million low-income citizens “paid for private tax filing services when they could have fled their taxes for free if they had successfully navigated a confusing and overly-complex Government program overseen by the IRS.” 

If you own a small business, administrative burden in tax filing is probably not exactly news to you.

The third finding is that “The Federal Government needs to expand opportunities for meaningful stakeholder engagement and adopt more accessible mechanisms for co-designing programs and services with underserved communities and customers. “

The report notes that “Many Federal agencies already conduct stakeholder engagement processes (including notice-and-comment sessions, town halls, forums, requests for information, and other forms of public engagement).” And yet, it correctly acknowledges that “ these efforts are too often perceived by stakeholders and agencies alike as being siloed, inaccessible, or irrelevant compliance exercises with unclear purpose or benefit to communities.”

The fourth finding notes that “advancing equity requires long-term change management and a dedicated strategy for sustainability.” In a single sentence, the report explains why this is a lot easier said than done: “systems change becomes feasible when a sense of urgency prevails and the status quo becomes untenable.” It also explains that with the kind of overhauls needed to reverse inequity, “problems often persist because of complex interdependencies, where solving one aspect of the problem reveals or creates new challenges.”

The upside, according to the report in its fifth finding, is that the government is really big and can use its purchasing power to level the playing field. “The scale of initiatives by the Federal Government creates an opportunity to advance equity by ensuring that resources are made available equitably though its core Federal management functions including financial management and procurement. 

Following the section on the study’s findings, a number of recommendations are given, starting with “continue to identify methods, consistent with applicable law, to assess equity and improve programs.”

Of course, the report suggests prioritizing investment in data collection and analysis of tools to measure and means of advancing equity. It also recommends continuing to assess and mitigate administrative burdens, and meaningfully engaging with stakeholders.

Other recommendations include: “Sustain and institutionalize equity in administrative, budget, learning, planning, and workforce initiatives,” and “Review core financial management and procurement guidance documents and practices for opportunities to embed equity.”

A lot of this report seems, well, obvious. But it’s still good to see the government itself saying these things and reporting them to President Biden. That’s progress if nothing else.

Category : Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Minority Business Enterprises Disparity Studies Diversity Outreach Federal Government

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