We the Partnership

Three ways federal leaders can improve COVID-19 collaboration between national and local governments

By Janira Garcia | February 18, 2021

While we do not yet know the full long-term effects of COVID-19, the pandemic is sure to place additional social and economic hardships on communities across the nation that already face unemployment, a lack of housing options, crime, limited access to health care, systemic racism and substandard public infrastructure. Exacerbating these hardships will have serious consequences: Research has already shown that children who grow up in low-income neighborhoods often find it more difficult to move up the economic ladder later in life. Given this situation, it is crucial for communities, and the stakeholders who support them, to find local solutions that will mitigate COVID-19’s harmful impact on our neighborhoods.

The federal government is in a unique position to leverage its power and resources to meet the distinct needs of communities across the country.

To facilitate more community-focused outcomes, government leaders must work to connect federal staff with rural, suburban, urban and tribal localities. Doing so will enable federal employees to better understand and meet the needs of those they serve.

Here are three ways federal leaders can foster collaboration between the federal government and local communities:

  • Create communications channels between local leaders, federal staff and additional stakeholders to achieve positive outcomes in the community. Federal staff working with local communities should review their strategic plans and work with local leaders to better understand their visions for change. Throughout, federal agencies should work to understand local needs by listening to community leaders.
  • Empower community leaders to use federal resources to implement local policy. Federal staff should help community leaders access federal resources and programs through virtual town halls or virtual information meetings with government employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent Regional Community Engagement Town Hall Sessions could serve as a guide for other federal agencies looking to organize their own virtual events.
  • Establish feedback loops between local communities, career staff and senior-level federal leaders to foster change. Federal leaders should enable community leaders to provide consistent feedback on the progress, challenges and pain points they experience during local-federal government collaborations. Federal staff should also write case studies, like those published by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and the National Park Service, to highlight best practices and lessons learned from collaborating with local interests.

These efforts would support President Biden’s recent executive order, which calls for agencies to engage with members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the federal government, and underserved by—or subject to discrimination in—federal policies and programs. 

Previous community-focused efforts at the federal level, including the 2011 Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative and the 2014 Promise Zones initiative, offer successful blueprints for developing strong federal-local partnerships.

The federal government and local leaders must partner to respond to the devastating impact of the pandemic. In addressing this crisis, we find a new path forward, one with increased collaboration, communication and coordination between the federal and local governments best prepared to meet the needs of communities across the country.


Janira Garcia