Monthly Archives: July 2016

DOL’s “America’s Promise Job Driven Grant Program” Shows The Transition from Green Jobs to H-1B Jobs

I’m writing a Department of Labor (DOL) America’s Promise Job Driven Grant Program proposal this weekend. There’s nothing remarkable about that, except that a close reading of the RFP reveals that the DOL has completely abandoned their interest in “green jobs” (this is somewhat odd, given that the DOL’s fascination with green jobs happened before solar panels, for example, really took off, and before commercial home electricity storage got going). The new job training kids on the block are “H-1B industries and occupations.”

Those of you outside of the tech industry may be wondering what that means. “H-1B” refers to a type of visa that allows non-US residents to enter the US temporarily to work in occupations for which there are supposedly not enough qualified American workers. While H-1B visas cover a plentitude of occupations, for purposes of this post, we’ll just think about them as tech-related jobs like engineers, coders, scientists, Flux Capacitor mechanics, and so on.

Almost every DOL RFP these days is full of H-1B references, and so are other federal proposals related to job training. But if we take a trip in Doc Brown’s souped up DeLorean back to 2009, we’d encounter a very different job training landscape.

For those of you who been on Tatooine or playing Pokemon Go for the last few years, 2009 was the height of the Great Recession and the start of the Stimulus Bill, or, as we called it, the Grant Writers Full Employment Act. Most of this $900 million of orgasmic Federal spending was directed at job training and workforce development in some way. Virtually every Federal job training RFP from 2008 to 2011 required training in green jobs. The problem was that no one, including us, actually knew what a green job was, so we just made it up. This worked, since the Federal program officers also weren’t sure what constituted a green job. We wrote a lot about weatherization, “smart windows,” and energy efficiency.

Most people would agree that Elon Musk’s Gigafactory supports electric vehicles and therefore the engineers and robot technicians housed there work in green jobs. Still, the factory will need janitors and cafeteria workers, and they might actually outnumber the engineers. Are the janitors and cafeteria workers green workers? While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) eventually came up with a green job definition, the definition was so vague as to be meaningless—perfect for grant writers.

Still, this no longer matters much, because Congress and Federal bureaucrats are a fickle bunch and green jobs have mostly disappeared from RFPs. Instead, we’re on to H1-B occupations. Fortunately for grant writers, other than requiring at least a baccalaureate, the US Citizen and Immigration Services’ H-1B jobs definition isn’t any more specific that the BLS definition of green jobs.

In DOL job training grant land, however, one doesn’t actually train people to qualify as H-1B workers, since there isn’t enough time or money for trainees to get a four-year degree. Plus, four-year engineering degrees have steep dropout curves and are tough to get. Most of those targeted by DOL programs don’t have the prerequisites for those kinds of degrees. Instead, DOL-funded training is for precursor jobs requiring a certificate or credential of some sort that might lead the person to completing a four-year degree and actually working in a H-1B job—some day.

The job training RFPs these days, and the workforce development proposals we write, have no more to to with H-1B jobs than, for example, the funded $1 million Department of Energy grant to train “weatherization specialists” we wrote in 2009 had to do with green jobs. These RFPs are primarily walkin’ around money for job training providers.

Links: Urban sustainability, prisoner reentry, the “Big Bootie” problem, teens are becoming more boring, tax-increment financing, and more!

* “My four months as a private prison guard,” which should make you even more skeptical of the prison-industrial complex than you already should be. Remember this if you’re working on a prisoner reentry proposal.

* “The End of Reflection“? Note that our business is predicated on reflection and the ability to sit quietly, alone, in a room and produce long-form documents. Smartphones have done nothing to help this practice and if anything hurt it.

* “The Superbook: Turn your smartphone into a laptop for $99.” I gave $20. This might be big for anyone in education, where laptops are often rarer than smartphones and almost all students have smartphones. The more powerful phones get and the more capacious their batteries, the more impressive / useful this becomes.

* “NYC Planners Propose Long Overdue Subway Line Just for the Boroughs.”

* “Review: Airmail, an OS X e-mail client that Chris Lee doesn’t hate: It integrates everything beautifully and lets you focus your attention.”

* “The Sotomayor and Kagan Dissents in Utah v. Strieff:” Yet another Supreme Court decision weakens the Fourth Amendment.

* BMW Is Turning Its [Used] Electric Vehicle Batteries Into a New Business. Brilliant.

* “British Lose Right to Claim That Americans Are Dumber.” Here is George Soros pointing out how dumb “Brexit” is.

* “Professors investigated by a ‘Bias Response Team’ for presenting opposing viewpoints.” This is not The Onion. One wonders if the Bias Response Team wears logo hats and t-shirts, or if it perhaps has badges. See also “Cultural Sensitivity, Cultural Insensitivity, and the ‘Big Bootie’ Problem in Grant Writing

* Enforcing the law is inherently violent, a point that ought to be more salient.

* “A field trip to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a work-in-progress that will test fusion’s feasibility.” Progress has been made since 2014’s article, “A Star in a Bottle: An audacious plan to create a new energy source could save the planet from catastrophe. But time is running out.” Both are excellent.

* Kids are more boring than they used to be: They’re drinking less, using fewer drugs, and having less sex. What’s the point of being young?

* “Building My $1,200 Hackintosh,” which is pretty attractive compared to Apple’s anemic lineup of desktop Macs.

* “Let’s make peer review scientific,” which ought to have happened ages ago.

* New York City’s subway agency loses six billion dollars a year—and nobody cares.

* “‘No One Can Breathe in This Atmosphere:’ Everyone should read Justice Sonia Sotomayor on how police stops are life-and-death experiences for people of color.”

* “The Surprising Health Benefits of an Electric Bike.”

* “X-Rated Verse From Ancient Rome: Catullus’s poems teem with heartbroken lovers, drunken cavorting youths, old men pining for women a fraction of their age.”

* “Sonnen’s new battery for solar self-consumption could succeed in US.”

* Transit Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) in Chicago.

* “How Expensive Cities Hurt Workers,” which regular readers no doubt know.

* “Pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana because painkiller prescriptions drop when weed is legalized.” Talk about positive unintended consequences.

* “The Fight for the ‘Right to Repair:’ Manufacturers have made it increasingly difficult for individuals or independent repair people to fix electronics. A growing movement is fighting back.” This is especially important for job-training and education providers: Repairing the myriad of digital devices we buy and break.

* Megan McArdle: “Sexual Harassment Is Invisible to Half the Population;” not the dumb stuff you’re used to reading on this topic.

* “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism: And how moral psychology can help explain and reduce tensions between the two.”

* The main source of economic growth is new ideas, which should be obvious yet needs to be better known.

* “Half Of TSA’s 30,000 Employees Accused Of Misconduct; Nearly A Third Multiple Times.” Unsurprising.

* “Religious Bric-à-Brac and Tolerance of Violent Jihad,” an uncommonly interesting and thoughtful piece that can’t be excerpted well.

* “We’re Building 6 Homes for Every 10 New Households. Where Will People Live?” When you hear people talking about “income inequality” in the national media, what they’re really saying is, “People feel financially squeezed.” That’s because, since the 1970s, we’ve systematically raised the cost of housing for virtually everybody through zoning rules. But that issue is complex enough that you won’t see slogans or bumper stickers around it.

* Drug Prohibition Has Made Policing More Violent: What can be done to curb the excessive and, sometimes, predatory policing that has emerged from the Drug War?

* “The White House hits the accelerator pedal to increase electric vehicle adoption,” and it looks like grants will be part of that effort. We like that—As the Wayans Brothers used to say, “Mo money without using your money.”

* “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor: Culture and law conspire to make prosecutors hostile to constitutional rights.” Disturbing and important.

* “The bicycle is making a comeback in US cities.” I am currently riding a Novara Gotham and previously rode a State bike. The latter is lighter and cheaper but the former is great for city rides. Plus: “Why even driving through suburbia is soul crushing.”

* Texas is the new California, but its status won’t last: “The cost of maintaining an equally endless amount of horizontal infrastructure will inevitably outstrip tax revenue over the next generation.” I’m not sure, and the argument is less analytic than it should be, but still.

Grant Proposal Staffing Plans: Payroll Titles vs Proposal Titles vs Real-World Duties

We’ve written about proposal staffing plans before, but staffing plans seem to confuse many of our clients and, presumably, many others. As we’ve explained previously, staffing plans are intertwined with other proposal elements (e.g., project description, budget, budget narrative, organization chart, job descriptions, etc.). Like all aspects of proposal writing, these elements—which are in a state of flux as the proposal moves from conceptualization to final draft—must be internally consistent in the submission package.

This makes the basic staffing plan the backbone of the entire proposal, which is frequently overlooked in the pressure-cooker days leading up to the submission deadline. One issue that often creates a strong potential for internal inconsistencies is the difference between payroll job titles and proposal job titles. All public agencies, and many larger nonprofits, have standardized job titles that are linked to salary steps and formal job descriptions. But those job titles may not match proposal job titles—and they don’t need to match.

For example, I was hired to work for Mayor Tom Bradley as a 22-year old long haired acolyte of Saul Alinsky* in 1974. I actually had two titles, neither of which had anything to do with my actual duties. My payroll title was “Administrative Assistant,” which didn’t impress me until I learned that “Administrative Assistant” was actually a fairly high level pre-management position in the LA City personnel system—not a coffee fetcher, as I’d first imagined. It turned out that many LA City lifers toiled for years before finally rising from Junior Admin Assistant to Admin Assistant to the ne plus ultra of Senior Admin Assistant. A friend worked for the City of LA for 33 years, starting as a Junior Admin Assistant, but never made to Senior Admin Assistant.

In LA I was actually being paid under a large federal Office of Community Services (OCS) grant. The OCS grant was being used in part to fund a visionary but ultimately pointless program called the LA Volunteer Corps, which was housed in Mayor Bradley’s office. My working title, “Evaluation Specialist,” was included in the original OCS proposal, and I was hired to supposedly evaluate the Volunteer Corps.

In reality, I got the job through a connection who wired the interview for me (I know you’re shocked to find corruption in a big city mayor’s office), even thought I know nothing about evaluation. No one actually wanted the Volunteer Corps evaluated, however, so that didn’t matter. The Evaluation Specialist position was included in the proposal to impress grant readers, and someone had to be tagged with it.

Suddenly I was the Evaluation Specialist, with a payroll title of Admin Assistant. But I din’t do either on the job. Instead, once my boss, Deputy Mayor Grace Montañez Davis, learned I knew how to write grants, I mostly wrote proposals for nonprofits interested in City of LA funding. I’d get a call from Grace and we’d go to see Mayor Bradley, who would introduce me to some nonprofit Executive Director. I’d interview them and write their proposal, which the City would then fund. It wasn’t all that different from our approach at Seliger + Associate, except that our proposals aren’t usually wired.**

When you develop proposals, don’t worry about your organization’s formal job titles—just pick titles that more or less match the imagined job duties in the proposal and that have the right salary ranges for the grant budget. Then dream up proposal job titles that match the project concept. Make sure the proposal job titles are consistent in all proposal elements but that the budget reflects the actual salaries tied to real organization job titles. After funding, none of this really matters, since the nominal Outreach Coordinator might end up doing case management in the real world.


* My training in Saul Alinsky community organizing is the only thing that connects me to Hillary Clinton, who is quite a bit older than me, and President Obama, who is quite a bit younger.

** Some proposals we write are wired, like the reprogrammed funds proposals Jake recently wrote about.

It’s possible to get re-programmed funds, if you’re tight with your federal agency program officer

In 2010 Isaac wrote “Be Nice to Your Program Officer: Reprogrammed / Unobligated Federal Funds Mean Christmas May Come Early and Often This Year,” and that post is important for the context of this story. We’ve written several funded grants for the same federal program for the same client over the last few years. The client is a national trade group, and last week our client contact called because he’d just gotten a random call from his program officer offering a large tranche of re-programmed funds. That money doesn’t come with any strings beyond the general restrictions on the initial grant-funded program. It’s also a sure thing, which is a rare, valuable thing in the grant world.*

Organizations that get re-programmed funds still have to submit a proposal (which may be short). However short, the proposal for re-programmed funds must be technically correct and usually has a quick turnaround time (this always happens near the end of the federal fiscal year, which is September 30). As a cautionary note, we’ve seen clients who’ve messed up their wired, re-programmed applications. Overall, though, the amount of effort required is usually far smaller than a conventional, competitive grant program.

When Isaac worked for the City of Inglewood in the 1980s, the FAA (yes, the Federal Aviation Administration) gave Inglewood re-programmed funds almost every year for about eight years. That happened because the City of Los Angeles had to relocate several thousand families to extend one LAX runway on the Pacific Ocean side. You can see the vacant land when you take off from LAX and just before the plane crosses the beach.

At the same time, Inglewood, where Isaac was the Redevelopment Manager, was removing about 800 families from under the flight path to the east of LAX, near The Forum and the site of the new LA Rams stadium, for redevelopment. To keep Inglewood from joining all the other players who were suing LAX over the runway extension, a deal was struck in which LAX convinced the FAA to accept grant applications from Inglewood for wholesale land acquisition with “noise mitigation” being the ruse or quid pro quo.

All of this was on the down low, of course, and Isaac wrote all the FAA proposals, which totaled over $25 million. The FAA liked Inglewood, mostly because it could spend the money quickly while accounting for it, so Isaac got a call every August from the FAA program officer asking if Inglewood wanted additional re-programmed funds. The answer was always… yes. Sometimes, all you have to do is not screw it up.


* And bars after 11 on a Saturday night.