Federal Role in Revitalizing Distressed Cities: Interagency Collaboration and Local Partnerships. 1. Introduction


The federal government has historically invested significant resources in the nation’s distressed cities. However, the benefits of these investments have often not been fully realized. Many of the most distressed cities have lacked the capacity to effectively use these resources and, in some cases, the segmented nature of the resources coming from the federal government has hindered the catalytic support federal programs might otherwise offer. The Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) Team pilot is an innovative effort to take on these challenges and develop a new approach for the federal government in revitalizing some of the most distressed cities in the U.S.

In September 2011, as part of SC2, the White House Domestic Policy Council and 14 federal agencies launched a pilot in six U.S. cities: Chester, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Fresno, California; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans, Louisiana.1 At the start of the pilot, federal agencies assigned employees to interagency teams of experts called SC2Teams.Each SC2 team was comprised of a team lead and federal employees assigned to work for the city either full-time, part-time, or in an advisory capacity. The federal teams included a small number of team members working on-site in the pilot cities as well as a larger number of team members based out of their agency’s headquarters in the Washington, DC area or out of regional or field offices. The final evaluation report, Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Team Pilot Initiative, provides a more complete description of the pilot effort.

In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Abt Associates and Mt. Auburn Associates to evaluate the first 18 months of the SC2 pilot. The goals of this evaluation were to assess (1) how the activities of teams were implemented, (2) how participants experienced SC2, and (3) what has been learned that can be used to enhance future program implementation. To complement the main evaluation report and explore select topics in more detail, the study produced two select topics papers, of which this is one.

The purpose of this paper is to delve in much greater depth into two features that differentiate the SC2 pilot from other federal initiatives targeted toward distressed cities: first, having federal staff from multiple agencies collaborate on locally identified, project-specific work; and, second, its use of federal staff to foster new partnerships amongst local stakeholders.

While the research completed for the final evaluation report identifies examples of convening new partnerships and collaboration across federal agencies, this paper seeks to glean additional insights into the federal role in revitalizing distressed cities by exploring in greater detail the most notable examples of these two areas of activity. The paper addresses two research questions:

  1. What determined when SC2 was able to increase coordination and collaboration among federal staff from multiple agencies and programs?
  2. What contributed to SC2 Team’s success when playing a convening role to facilitate local partnerships?

The remainder of this paper is divided into three sections:

  • Section 2 looks at the cases of significant federal interagency collaboration and identifies some of the lessons that emerged from these cases.
  • Section 3 looks at the cases in which team members successfully convened formal local partnerships in the sites and identifies some of the lessons that emerged from these cases.
  • Section 4 discusses some of the implications of the findings on interagency collaboration and partnerships for the federal role in revitalizing distressed communities and future SC2 work.

1 In October 2012, after the contract for this evaluation was executed, Youngstown, Ohio, also became an SC2 Team site.

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