Our analysis identified strengths of the SC2 approach from the perspectives of both the participating cities and the federal government. 24
24 During stakeholder interviews, we discussed the SC2 approach as consisting of five elements: (1) embedding staff in particular communities, (2) embedding federal employees in particular communities, (3) engaging cities in a partnership, (4) bringing together multiple federal agencies to work more collaboratively in particular communities, and (5) exposing federal agency staff to day-to-day workings of cities. Stakeholders built upon these components based on their own experiences with the SC2 pilot.
5.1.1 Strengths of the SC2 Approach from the Perspective of Cities
Stakeholders in pilot cities described the strengths of the SC2 approach in terms of how it changed their relationship with the federal government and in terms of the outcomes achieved for their cities. They valued the bottom-up approach that replaced the usual federal interactions with cities rooted in compliance and monitoring and encouraged federal staff to get involved in the day-to-day operations of their cities, thus giving involved federal staff a clearer picture of the specific challenges they face and how cities are affected by federal policies.
City stakeholders regarded the pilot as a way to facilitate more direct access to a range of federal resources. They gained a better understanding of federal policies and programs via the pilot and benefitted from increased awareness of federal funding opportunities. They learned how to use existing federal funds more effectively and retained millions of dollars in funds that were at risk of being recaptured by the federal government. The cities also gained more direct access to decision makers in the federal government. City stakeholders noted that they were able to receive quick and definitive answers to questions that they felt would otherwise have taken months or years to be resolved. The ability to bypass bureaucratic barriers and receive assistance in removing or mitigating red tape was especially valued by the cities.
Cities appreciated that the engagement led to new or improved relationships with federal employees and community stakeholders. City stakeholders indicated that participating in the pilot provided the city with new connections to federal employees. They expected that many of these new relationships would continue beyond the pilot and would be a way to partner with federal agencies on local projects, or simply be a conduit for information about federal resources, opportunities, or policies. Cities also valued that team members often were able to help repair existing strained relationships with federal officials, as was seen in several cases where regionally-based federal staff were familiar with cities due to grant oversight responsibilities. Regarding relationships with community stakeholders, cities appreciated the working groups that team members helped form in areas, such as neighborhood revitalization and workforce development. These groups and resulting relationships are expected to benefit the cities for years to come.
5.1.2 Strengths of the Approach from the Perspective of the Federal Government
Similar to the pilot cities, federal agencies and federal employees saw five key strengths in the SC2 approach. Three of the strengths related to ways that the SC2 approach improved federal employees’ ability to do their work, providing them with valuable insight into how distressed cities operate, giving them a chance to interact with other federal agencies, and affording them new avenues for professional development. The other two strengths related to features of the SC2 approach that made the federal assistance provided more effective: the ability to target efforts to cities’ individual needs and directly engage the mayor.