Promising Practices in Federal Coordination with State, Local and Tribal Governments to Implement Major Investment Programs 

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Promising Practices in Federal Coordination with State, Local and Tribal Governments to Implement Major Investment Programs 


Coordination and collaboration between levels of government—federal, state, local, tribal and territorial—is key to implementing the American Rescue Plan Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act. While federal agencies design and fund the programs that invest billions of dollars in communities across the country, other levels of government are responsible for much of their implementation.

According to Emily Brock, the director of the Federal Liaison Center at the Government Finance Officers Association, the success of these investments “requires the customer—in this case state and local government—to embrace [them] fully.” Thoughtful collaboration and coordination are needed to ensure that different levels of government are aware of funding opportunities, understand their potential suitability for local communities and circumstances, and know how to apply for and implement investments that meet their needs.

What strategies can federal agencies use to build strong working relationships with different levels of government in the 50 states, 14 territories, hundreds of tribal communities, and thousands of cities and counties in the U.S.? We interviewed subject matter experts across levels of government to collect and synthesize promising practices for fostering intergovernmental coordination and collaboration. The practices below are a starting point for how federal agencies and leaders can design and implement large-scale investment programs in ways that build strong working relationships with other levels of government and support states, localities and tribes as all levels of government work to advance the goals of these initiatives.

Promising Practices for Collaboration and Coordination Between Different Levels of Government

Federal agencies are often well-positioned to convene and build connections between leaders working at different levels of government to help ensure all parties are on the same page when it comes to implementing major investments. Agencies should explore ways to leverage their existing relationships with state, local and tribal governments to help build connections between key stakeholders working at each level. Federal agencies should employ the following methods to help forge these connections:

Serve as a bridge between levels of government. In cases where different levels of government might not already have a working relationship, federal agencies can serve as a bridge to help all players think about how to collaborate effectively.

"Peer learning across jurisdictions and government levels is key. By sharing their experiences grappling with and overcoming challenges, jurisdictions can learn from each other how to best use the funding they have secured in a productive and equitable way."

– Chiraag Bains, former deputy assistant to the president for racial justice and equity, the White House 

Provide forums for peer-to-peer learning. Agencies can facilitate connections by creating forums for states or localities to discuss similar challenges or circumstances they face in relation to a particular major investment program.

“Facilitating peer-to-peer collaboration [between states], and then creating resources based on those conversations, [has] proven to be a really helpful and successful model.”

– Nicole Steele, Workforce and Equitable Access Program Manager, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Department of Energy 

Bring nongovernment stakeholders into the conversation. Federal agencies should also help different levels of government connect with private sector and nonprofit organizations that are also seeking opportunities to tap into major investment projects.

“Spend time with the mayor, the governor, the workforce organizations and the economic development organizations—and with community colleges and universities—to activate all aspects [of the community]. Make sure everybody's talking to each other and sharing best practices [and prioritizing] proactive outreach and efforts to really bring parties to the table.”

– Todd Fisher, chief investment officer, CHIPS Program Office, Department of Commerce 

Each state, local, tribal or territorial government operates in its own context—with its particular priorities, geography, resources and capacity. Federal agencies must be mindful of these contexts when designing and implementing major investment initiatives so communities across the country are able to participate in these programs. Agencies should:

Consider local government structures and fiscal calendars. State and local governments have their own processes and deadlines that may conflict with the requirements of major investment programs. Federal agencies should consider these factors, when possible, as they design programs.

“I would suggest understanding the timing. …We have a fiscal year at the local government level—sometimes they’re calendar years, most of the time they start in June or July, sometimes they start in September like the federal fiscal year. But what happens is, in having a discussion about deployment and compliance, [federal agencies] will say 'Well, the report is due in October.' And for a June to July fiscal year, October means I have to disrupt the middle of my fiscal year to report back progress, and then I've got to sort of restart in the middle of my year.

– Emily Brock, director, Federal Liaison Center, Government Finance Officers Association

Design processes that acknowledge the capacity constraints of state and local governments. The resources and staffing available to complete grant applications—and to adhere to compliance and reporting requirements—depend on the size and budget of different levels of government. When implementing major investment programs, federal agencies should design processes that enable governments with varying levels of resources to participate.  

“Larger cities have the capacity to apply for grants. They have city planners, and they have a wealth of resources pulled in from different pools of money. …Medium-sized cities and towns, and your smaller towns in rural areas, don't. …They don't have a city planner, they don't have a town engineer, [and] they don't have $200,000 to apply for a local match.

Mark Boughton, infrastructure implementation coordinator, state of Connecticut

Federal agencies should explore ways to help partners build their capacity to apply for and implement major federal investment programs. Visit the Partnership’s resource on promising practices for providing technical assistance to learn more about designing and implementing technical assistance programs to build capacity.

“We were really focused on how can we build the capacity of and support localities and regions to do some of that planning and to [build] the capacity to come in for some of these funds? You can do all you want on the federal side to make it easy, but if you're not intentional about helping to build capacity … I think you still end up with [funding going to the same recipients].

– former White House official, American Rescue Plan

“What we want is for the federal government to say, ‘How might we be able to assist and ensure that those who are applying have the capacity to report back [on compliance and reporting requirements]?

– Emily Brock, director, Federal Liaison Center, Government Finance Officers Association

As much as possible, federal agencies should design major investment programs with enough flexibility to accommodate the specific priorities of each state and local government. Agencies should gather information from partners about what these priorities are and use that information to inform implementation.

“It is important to have a federal partner that is supportive of state and local priorities within reason.”

– John Porcari, former deputy secretary of transportation 

“The whole purpose of local government is that's the level that's closest to the action. …You can get feedback at a local level to put the money where it is most needed as opposed to trying to build these things in from the very top and then pushing downward. A lot is going to be lost in translation that way.

– Shayne Kavanagh, senior research manager, Government Finance Officers Association

Recent large-scale federal investments span multiple federal agencies and departments, with each administering their own programs and often conducting their own outreach to state, local and tribal governments. Coordinating with other federal agencies that work with the same communities enables agency leaders to better implement major investments as well as reduce the time and effort that state and local leaders must spend communicating with the federal government. Recommendations for interagency collaboration include:

Share research and insights to understand state, local and tribal needs. By gathering, consolidating and sharing feedback from intergovernmental partners, federal agencies can develop a more robust understanding of the needs of these intergovernmental partners, which should then inform program design and implementation.

"Good collaboration means that other federal agencies work together. We are believing in and working toward that all-of-government approach … really trying to listen to the needs of tribes—and not just listening, but taking action and meeting them with funding."

– John Mosley, branch chief, Tribal Climate Resilience Program, Bureau of Indian Affairs

Identify opportunities to jointly advance shared objectives. Multiple major federal investment programs often serve the same communities or work toward the same goals. Agencies should identify opportunities to collaborate to better meet the needs of state, local and tribal governments in a specific program area.  

For example, the Federal Interagency Thriving Communities Network was created to allow cabinet agencies to collaborate on agency technical assistance programs and capacity-building resources to better support local needs and priorities.

“Effective communication across and within agencies is important – especially to make sure that agencies, their programs and resources can align, grow and build upon each other.

– Matthew Tejada, deputy assistant administrator for environmental justice, Environmental Protection Agency

Combine the expertise of different agencies to assist state and local partners. Agencies should identify opportunities where combining their complementary expertise on specific topic areas or implementation issues would enable them to better support and collaborate with local communities on major investment initiatives.

For example, the Department of Energy is partnering with the Department of Agriculture to deliver technical assistance programs, combining the USDA’s local staff and community relationships with DOE’s technical expertise on energy programming.

"These teams are targeted at geographic areas, bringing in expertise from different agencies. At the heart of it is pulling together the right people from different parts of the interagency to deliver what's needed in that area. We can leverage those local staff that we don't have, but USDA [does]…while adding technical value to what they're trying to do as well as serve the communities in a more targeted, meaningful way.

– Katrina Pielli, director, Engagement Office, Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, Department of Energy 

Coordinate the timing of funding opportunities. State and local governments must carefully weigh which of the many funding opportunities they should apply for to support a particular project or priority. To assist, federal agencies should explore ways to coordinate as much as possible the timing of similar funding announcements so that state, local and tribal governments have sufficient information to evaluate which opportunities to pursue.

“Timing of the [Notices of Funding Opportunity] is critical. …There should be some communication among federal agencies about that timing. Maybe July is transportation month, and you know any transportation-related [opportunity] is going to be dropped in July.

– Mark Boughton, infrastructure implementation coordinator, state of Connecticut 

The complexity and often fast pace of major investment initiatives—especially at a time when state, local and tribal governments are navigating dozens or even hundreds of different programs—make clear and consistent communication between levels of government crucial. The experts we spoke with discussed several recommendations for agency communication with stakeholders at different levels of government:   

Share information in easily accessible formats. Agencies should explore as many ways as possible to communicate information about programs to ensure ease-of-access for stakeholders at all levels of government 

“EDA’s communities of practice lead with our commitment to equity, not just in the outcomes we hope to see in the communities we serve, but also in how we ensure our programs are within reach of every stakeholder. That’s why sharing our best practices is so important to our work. Among the ways we keep our programs accessible is the use of digital recordings of online engagements, as well as an array of documents, blogs, and podcasts to meet our communities of practice stakeholders where and how they absorb information best. We also recommend ensuring event travel costs are incorporated into a program’s budgeting and planning to ensure economic barriers do not preclude someone from participating in such valuable programming.”

– Tori Brown, former communities of practice coordinator, Office of Regional Affairs, Economic Development Administration, Department of Commerce

Provide opportunities for real-time feedback. Creating opportunities for states, localities and tribes to share their ongoing experiences with major investment programs can help agencies understand successes and challenges in real time, enabling them to improve coordination and collaboration as needed.

“We talked to the states [and] to the governors once a month. We talked to the localities once a month. And when I say we, [I mean] the vice president himself getting on the phone and talking to a set of governors. Everybody had a chance to tell us what was working and what wasnt working.”

– Ed DeSeve, former special advisor to the president, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Communicate anticipated timelines to assist in planning. To help state and local governments plan how they will implement major investment grants, federal agencies should share updates on anticipated timelines for decision-making and funding awards, particularly if those timelines change.

“We're trying to solidify timelines, and we also want to maximize this investment. Just maybe being able to communicate directly to applicants [and say], We anticipated this but it's looking like this instead. That communication probably could be tightened up little bit, letting folks know when to anticipate awards [and] when thereare delays.” 

– Sarah Hutson, senior management analyst, Bend, Oregon

Create a “front door” that serves as a single entry point for multiple programs. To reduce the burden on state and local governments to find the right department or program they need, agencies should create a clear entry point that connects those governments with the right programmatic office.

At the Department of Energy, we’ve created a team called the Office of Community Engagement that is organized by “engagement specialists” assigned to support a group of states in a particular region. These regional engagement specialists are essentially general concierges and DOE ambassadors that help stakeholders navigate the complex ecosystem of DOE prizes, grants, technical assistance programs, and other resources. We now have over 28 different program offices across DOE that are connected to this office and coordinating our various on-the-ground engagements. We are also creating a central hub on the DOE website that will be a universal tool available to help others navigate the various DOE opportunities. In short, the Office of Community Engagement is the front door to DOE and helps to make DOE and our resources more accessible to all.”

– Chris Castro, chief of staff, Office of State and Community Energy Programs, Department of Energy 

In designing the reporting and compliance requirements for major investment programs, agencies must balance the need to ensure that recipients spend funds responsibly and in ways that align with program goals with consideration of the resources that state and local governments must use to fulfil extensive reporting requirements.

“You have to make sure not just the application is easy, but [also the] compliance and reporting for the duration of the grant is doable for state and local governments.

– Emily Brock, director, Federal Liaison Center, Government Finance Officers Association

Some major investment programs provide more statutory flexibilities than others. For more flexible programs, agencies should make sure their guidance and communications clearly explain those flexibilities and how state, local and tribal governments can take advantage of them to reduce the administrative burden of complying with program requirements.  

“The Department of the Treasury's [American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund] guidance allowed that flexibility, and I think the agency even emphasized it by saying, ‘Take advantage of [a flexible expenditure category] because that reduces the administrative burden on a lot of programs and allows you more room [to decide] how the dollars are spent.'

– Tyler Tulloch, former grants manager, state of Connecticut 

Federal agencies should provide clear direction around what level of risk is acceptable for each program—for example, how many documents are needed to verify a recipient’s eligibility for a program—so that states and localities can implement new investments quickly, effectively and with confidence that their decisions around program implementation will be supported.  

“On the state and local side, when they think there's a level of risk that the federal government isn't aligned with, they're going to err on the side of being more risk averse. …On the federal side, [our role is] signaling where it's okay to derisk and where it’s not. The federal role is to understand and set those conditions and constraints.

– former White House official, American Rescue Plan

As agencies collaborate with state, local and tribal governments on major investment initiatives, they should use data on an ongoing basis to track how funding is being distributed and identify where more collaboration would help new localities apply for and implement these programs.

"There was some data analysis that the agencies were undertaking, and that the White House in the Office of Science and Technology Policy undertook as well, to identify where the money had gone. Where are the gaps? Early on, we identified areas around the country that were not getting much of the infrastructure funding yet. That gave us clues about where to increase outreach and technical support.” 

Chiraag Bains, former deputy assistant to the President for racial justice and equity, the White House