Monthly Archives: October 2014

Another (and Exhaustively Named) Insider RFP: CMS Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative (TCPI), Support and Alignment Network (SAN)

We may be seeing an increase in “insider” RFPs.

By “insider” RFPs, we mean RFPs that don’t allow any random nonprofit to compete. HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) program (explained at the link) is an example: a nonprofit already has to be a CoC member to get a Cut of the Cash (which is another sort of “CoC”), which naturally creates barriers for new organizations that wish to try to do things better or at least differently than the existing funded organizations. The grant system as we presently know it got started in earnest in the ’60s because it was believed that local organizations were better suited to figure out what needed to be done than centralized federal bureaucrats. In addition, the threat of funding stream removal may make local organizations more disciplined than government bureaucracies—an idea that anyone who has dealt with a DMV may appreciate.

But designating small groups of eligible applicants is one way to get around open competition, particularly if the eligibility details are cryptic. As you may imagine given the title of this post, we have an example in mind: the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) just issued the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative (TCPI), Support and Alignment Network (SAN) FOA. Unless you’re already a professional organization or medical specialty group you’ll probably have no idea what it means to:

leverage primary and specialist care transformation work and learning in the field. The action by PTNs and SANs is planned to contribute to the overall operational efficiency and movement of the clinician practices through the 5 Phases of Transformation and their achievement of the TCPI goals.

I love leveraging transformations in order to effect effective and immediate action by PTNs and SANs and BBQs. Don’t you? “Cryptic” does not do this acronym stew justice.

In short, this is another insider RFP. For, say, organizations devoted to nurses, there are only going to be a handful of eligible applicants, because there are only so many nursing organizations that could be construed to be eligible applicants.

For applications like TCPI SAN, some interesting competitive dynamics can still take place within warring fiefdoms. For example, there are at least two large general-purpose national nurse organizations or trade groups, which we know because we’ve worked with one. Not surprisingly the two groups don’t like each other very much. As often happens, one likes one set of ideals that the other opposes, and vice-versa. Also not surprisingly, they fight for the same dues, grant opportunities, and foundation support; though both want to cast their aspersions as ideological or intellectual in nature, it’s always a good idea to follow the money too.*

In addition, there might be specialists within specialists groups. Is nursing the right level of specialty, or is oncology nursing? Is the association of surgeons correct, or the association of neurosurgeons? Those are the distinctions that’ll come into play in TCPI grant applications. We look forward to grabbing our axes, forming a shield wall, and fighting to the end.**


* A theme you should notice running throughout Grant Writing Confidential and indeed world history itself. How much of the 100 Years War was about the souls of English- and Frenchmen and the merits of Protestantism versus Catholicism, and how much was about money, trade, land, and political control? Today most historians probably argue as the latter, but almost any battle, whatever else it may be about, will also be cast as a war of ideas. Ideas are easier to fight and die for.

** I’ve been watching Vikings, which is set in an imagined 800 AD and in which a lot of characters die unpleasant deaths. The link also goes to the Blu-Ray version, which is to say the European version, which is to say a version much better and realer than the one that airs on American TV.

Grant Writing Confidential Goes to the Movies Part 3: Ghostbusters (Who Ya Gonna Call? Program Officers!)

Ghostbusters was Jake’s favorite movie when he was a child. He watched the video at least a hundred times and it remains a classic of its type.* As Ray Parker put it in his incredibly catchy, eponymous Ghostbusters theme song, “When there’s something strange in the neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” There’s a Koanic simplicity in this advice: when you have a problem, call the expert, not someone pretending to be the expert.

I was reminded of this over the summer, because we wrote proposals for clients applying to several federal grant programs with incredibly complex RFPs and underlying guidelines, including the HRSA New Access Point (NAP) and the Early Head Start (EHS) programs. Our clients for these assignments all had unusual or complex project concepts that required closely reading and carefully interpreting the RFPs and regs. The RFPs and regs raised issues for both our clients, though we can’t specify what those issues are; trust us when we say that they were real.

Our standard advice to clients in this situation—and as we’ve we’ve written about many times—is to immediately contact the Program Officer listed in the RFP and pop any questions about vague descriptions or apparent conflicts. At Seliger + Associates, we almost never contact Program Officers directly, since they rarely pay attention to consultants. Instead, we coach our clients on how to pose the question and get as clear a written interpretation as possible.

But our NAP and EHS clients didn’t want to contact the Program Officers; instead, they sought guidance from their state association, which are effectively trade groups for grantees. For large programs, like HRSA Section 330 and Head Start, networks of state and national organizations have grown up, which provide technical assistance and the ever-popular grantee conferences. An example is the Community Health Care Association of New York State, which is composed of Section 330 providers in New York and assorted hangers-on (note that we did not write a NAP proposal in New york this year—and I found CHSNYS through a Google search). When a big RFP for NAP, Head Start and similar federal programs comes along, these associations put on a full-court press to “help” applicants in their states prepare proposals. This help does not mean writing the proposal, although sometimes the association will provide data and research citations. The technical assistance usually involves meetings, Powerpoint presentations, webinars and so on.

Applicants rarely realize, however, that their association provides the same help to all agencies in their state. Rather than being truly interested in their particular agency submitting a technically correct proposal, the association is more like a mom passing out orange slices at a middle school swim meet—they want all agencies to come in first. Like a swim meet, however, and human nature being what it is, some applicants are favored by the “moms” and get extra orange slices, while others get orange-dyed onion slices.

We had a NAP client a few years ago in a western state that ran into active opposition from the state association because the association staff hated our client. I know this for a fact, because the association Executive Director told me so! Despite the association’s animus and refusal to provide a support letter, we wrote a compelling proposal, which was funded, much to the annoyance of the association, which then had to include our client.

The basic problem in asking associations or consultants for RRP interpretation is simple: they don’t work for the federal agency. Their opinions regarding a particular RFP don’t mean anything. The only way to get an interpretation of an RFP is by asking the Program Officer in writing and getting a written reply. Even then, the response is likely to say something like “this is subject to the guidelines, as published in the Federal Register.” Over the years, we’ve helped our clients thread their way through this process many times, including instances in which the federal agency published a correction to the RFP (as Jake writes at the link). A published RFP amendment is the gold standard for RFP interpretation.

Be careful in taking the advice of your state association, no matter how much fun their conferences are. When there’s something strange in a RFP neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Program Officers!


* I recently saw the grandaddy of ghost/comic films, 1940’s The Ghost Breakers, with the hilarious Bob Hope, exquisitely beautiful Paulette Goddard and a very young Anthony Quinn. If you like Ghostbusters, you’ll love The Ghost Breakers. It’s little non-PC, but the movie was made in 1940.

HUD Gets Back in the Job Training Biz: “Jobs Plus Pilot Program” NOFA Released

HUD just issued a NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability, which is HUD-speak for RFP) for the Jobs Plus Pilot Program. There’s $24 million up for grabs, with grants to $3 million, for Public Housing Authorities/Indian Housing Authorities (PHAs/IHAs). While the issuance of a new HUD NOFA is not usually all that interesting, this one is because it represents a shift in HUD’s priorities.

As I wrote last February, job training is one of the current favored project concepts in grant making. There are at least 47 federal job training programs, or possibly 48 including the newly minted Jobs Plus. You may not remember, though I do, that President Obama made a big fuss about job training in his most recent State of the Union address and vowed to unleash Vice President Biden to study federal job training initiatives in hopes of simplifying things.

Right.

That was the last I heard of this noble quest, and, as far as I can tell, the herd of federal job training programs continue to thunder across the plain. It’s job training business as usual, with the random new program tossed in for good measure.

This is not, however, what made me notice this notice.

At one time HUD had several competitive job training programs, including our old friend YouthBuild, which HUD managed for about 12 years. Suddenly, in the waning days of the reign of George Bush the Younger, Congress got the bright idea that maybe it isn’t such a good approach to have HUD, which is supposed to be involved in housing, fund job training programs. Not a bad reform, since HUD’s job training grant programs were not coordinated with other federal job training programs, particularly the ones operated by the Department of Labor. YouthBuild and other HUD job training programs were eventually transferred to DOL in a previous effort to “simplify things.” Now that eight years or so of DOL running former HUD job training programs have passed, it seems perfectly appropriate to make things more complex again by having HUD manage yet another job training program.

A cursory look at the Jobs Plus Pilot reveals that there’s not much new here, since it’s more or less a rehash of the “workfare” job training concept that emerged from the 1996 compromise Welfare Reform legislation negotiated by President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich. The basic idea was (and is) to tie public income supports, like TANF, to job training. This naturally works better when the economy is producing lots of entry-level jobs.

In the case of Jobs Plus, the target population is residents of the 250 or so remaining large public housing projects* that survived the lunacy of the now almost forgotten HOPE VI program that funded the demolition of thousands of public housing units across America. Even though we wrote some HOPE VI proposals, it always struck me as incredibly stupid to tear down the housing of last resort for the poorest Americans. The good news now is that, if your public housing development still stands, HUD is willing to toss you a job training bone. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent public housing residents from accessing the myriad of job training programs surrounding them. As a grant writer, however, I agree and have to ask, “why have 47 job training programs when 48 will do?”


* When writing a grant proposal about public housing, never use the term “housing project.” Instead, these are always referred to by the more PC “housing development.” Of course, I’m a geezer who grew up in the very poor North Minneapolis neighborhood adjacent to the huge Sumner Field Homes and associated public housing high rises.

I used to play at the Sumner Field park and kid and adults referred to this area as “the projects.” I’ve been to re-education camp since then and banished “projects” from my proposals. By the way, if you follow this link you’ll learn that a huge HOPE VI grant was used to destroy the entire Sumner Field Homes and associated buildings in 1998, displacing 97% of the over 3,300 poor residents in the name of the “new urbanism.” Not to worry: a much smaller mixed-use development replaced it, but there is no word on what happened to the thousands of residents who were tossed out.