The following cases provide insight to the research question, “What determined when SC2 was able to increase coordination and collaboration among federal staff across multiple programs?” by highlighting how the need for or idea to coordinate across agencies emerged, who was involved in the effort, how they became engaged, and what was achieved.
2.2 Interagency Collaboration: Findings
Increased collaboration among federal agencies working with pilot cities was one of the clear goals of the SC2 pilot. And, as seen in the cases cited, there have been some significant examples of positive outcomes that have been achieved as a result of cross-agency collaboration in the SC2 pilot sites. This cross-agency work is also leading to potential outcomes that are enduring both beyond the SC2 process and beyond the SC2 pilot sites:
- In Fresno, the cross-agency relationships established may be used in other communities along the high speed rail line.
- The blending of DOT and CDBG funding model from New Orleans is being promoted in other cities.
- In Fresno, USDA agencies and the DOE OCIO have signed an MOU to formalize collaborative efforts on an ongoing basis.
In the cases of Fresno and New Orleans, understanding why staff members from a variety of federal agencies were able to coordinate their efforts, collaborate to address barriers, and take advantage of opportunities provides insights into answering the research question, “What determined when SC2 was able to increase coordination and collaboration among federal staff from multiple agencies and programs?” The findings also inform future federal efforts to revitalize distressed cities. Some of the lessons emerging from the cross-agency collaboration in these two cities are:
- Problem-solving across federal agencies to complete a real, on-the-ground project facilitates new ways of working and new collaborative relationships among federal staff from multiple agencies. There have been many different approaches to interagency collaboration, many of which are outlined in the recent GAO report on interagency collaboration (2012). And, the current administration has developed numerous initiatives to promote increased collaboration across federal agencies, the SC2 initiative being one. The case examples provide evidence that the SC2 approach is somewhat unique. While most existing examples of cross-agency collaboration are occurring at the policy or funding level, team members from multiple agencies were able to collaborate on on-the-ground challenges that required a different type of problem solving. This indicates focusing on a specific location can be a naturally unifying factor for interagency collaboration.
- Most examples of cross-agency collaboration gradually emerged over the course of team members’ involvement in the cities. Few of the examples that site leads identified were in the initial work plan developed in each of the sites. This indicates it was difficult to anticipate where and how interagency collaboration would be required. The cases suggest that putting a team of interagency federal staff together through this SC2 structure lends itself well for emergent collaboration.
- Strong working relationships amongst the team members was very important and created an environment that often led to the identification of opportunities to work across agencies. In some of the sites, the team members developed relatively strong, informal relationships. These relationships created a sense of trust that carried over when cross-agency issues arose. Moreover, by participating in a team made up of federal staff members from various agencies, team members were able to learn more about the work within these other agencies, and ultimately use one another as a resource when faced with issues that crossed agency boundaries. Through these relationships, some of the team members sought to engage their counterparts in other agencies when the city or state came to them with a problem or issue that it wanted the SC2 team to address.
- Engaging with the state is often important in efforts that seek to coordinate federal funding. In a number of these cases, federal funding flowed through the state, not the city. In some cases, a state agency, not the city, initiated the request for federal assistance in addressing a challenge or opportunity. Thus, it is important to consider where and how federal funds are flowing into the city and that federal efforts to increase coordination will need to engage stakeholders at the state, county, and municipal levels.
- Collaborating across agencies is most likely to be needed where there are regulatory inconsistencies or in cases where there are multiple streams of federal investment in a specific place or related to a specific project. The cases provide evidence that collaboration across federal agencies is most likely to occur where it is needed to either address a longstanding challenge or where coordinating federal resources can help to maximize public benefits. A clear implication is in developing the work plan for the sites, more attention could be given to identify the flow of federal funding into each city and any ongoing regulatory or funding challenges related to this funding. Increased focus on targeting those areas where cross-agency collaboration is more likely to be required would take fuller advantage of some of the unique elements of the SC2 initiative.