Tag Archives: Government

Earmarks could come back: That’s great news for governance and nonprofits

I was wrong about earmarks.

Like a lot of good-government types, I opposed earmarks (which are sole-recipient funds to specific organizations allocated by Congress) and thought earmarks were a sign of brazen corruption, like cash kickbacks from vendors to mayors. I didn’t oppose earmarks out of greed, although earmarks can be seen as bad for grant writers because any funding that’s earmarked isn’t available for grant-funded competitions—I saw them as basically immoral. Corruption is bad, so we should get rid of it, right?

But banning earmarks was (and is) a cure worse than the disease. Without earmarks, congressional leaders have limited tools to discipline members of their caucuses. Members are free to grandstand, vote on principle, and block useful legislation in order to pander to primary voters, rather than general election voters. You, dear reader, may initially think it’s good to vote on principle—as long as the principle is one you uphold. But when it isn’t one you uphold, you’ll likely be angry. You’ll also be angry when Congress seems incapable of acting. Because of the way the United States is structured, there are many intentional chokepoints for legislation, and it’s much easier to block than pass legislation. As parties have become more polarized, we’ve gotten increasing legislative gridlock.

Without earmarks, voters have no incentive to vote for pragmatists who will bring the pork their district. Instead, they can vote for extreme partisans who engage in a lot of symbolic talk and votes without considering what’s really good for the country. When congressional leaders have earmarking power, grandstanding has a real consequence. When congressional leaders don’t have earmarking power, they can’t keep their caucus together and it’s much harder to cobble together the 60 votes needed to pass most anything in the Senate. In Congress, pragmatism is actually better than purity, but we’ve seen increasing ideological purity at the expense of a functioning country.

This is a post, not a book, so I can’t go into great detail about why and how this happens, but The Myth of the Rational Voter is a good place to start. I can say, however, that earmarks improve the incentives on legislators to cut deals and make sure the government can do something—anything, really.

Beyond high-minded principles, some nonprofit and public agencies will also be able to receive earmarks again. Pursuing earmarks isn’t in the scope of our business practice, but it is a useful thing to note.

This article, from 2016, gives some more earmark context on earmarks. This article, gives more context. Here’s a good Tweetstorm.

Note that no one is arguing that earmarks are perfect or that the process is without defect. When I’ve argued the case for earmarks to politically minded friends, they’ve told me that I’m a craven tool of corporate interests (let’s ignore the logic of that for the time being and just view it as a signaling mechanism). But earmarks are better than no earmarks; sometimes bad is an improvement over even worse. We’ve seen what happens to the quality of federal governance without earmarks to discipline congresspeople. It isn’t good. Bring ’em back. I admit publicly that I was wrong.

Here is an argument against earmarks, which I don’t find persuasive for reasons listed in the paragraphs above, but it is a reasonable view.

February Links: Writing, NIMBYs, Nonprofits-as-startups, Affordable Housing, Baltimore, Washington DC, Washington Monument Syndrome, Porn Star Study and more!

* In Writing, First Do No Harm.

* “The emergence of “YIMBY” [Yes In My Backyard] organizations in American cities would be a welcome counterpoint to the prevailing tides of NIMBYism that often dominate local government. But it is worth saying that broader institutional reforms are what’s really needed.”

* Nonprofit Startups Are Just Like Their Counterparts, according to Paul Graham. We’ve never seen a nonprofit really behave like a startup. Maybe Watsi, the nonprofit featured in the article, will be different.

* Who pays for healthcare also explains why prices are so high. In my view we also spend too much time debating insurance coverage and too little time discussing access to care and how that can be improved.

* “Home craft project: replacing broken laptop screen.” Why haven’t we seen job-skills training programs focused on computer and electronic repair? This may be more viable than Project NUTRIA, but it doesn’t involve small animals.

* From Shlomo Angel’s Planet of Cities:

Like many other observers, such as John Turner (1967) in Latin America, I found that wherever the urban poor could obtain affordable access to minimally serviced land, they could build their own homes and create vibrant communities with little if any support from the government. When free of government harassment and the threat of eviction, their houses would quickly improve over time with their investment of their savings and sweat equity. People could house themselves at the required scale and create many millions of decent homes, while leaving very few people homeless, something that all governments (save that of modern-day Singapore, an outlier on every possible scale) have consistently failed to do. Admitted, the expanding settlements of the poor did not conform to building codes, land subdivision regulations, land use and zoning requirements, or even property rights regimes. (52)

In many jurisdictions, governments nominally devoted to affordable housing prevent its creation. Key words in the above paragraph—”could obtain affordable access to minimally serviced land”—aren’t going to apply to downtown Seattle, or even the downtown Seattle periphery—but the basic idea is an important one. So is the recognition that land use controls in places like New York, Boston, and San Francisco decrease affordability more than any set of programs could increase it. And then there’s Detroit, but that’s another story.

* Baltimore is headed toward bankruptcy. Maybe they need an Outer Harbor to go with the Inner Harbor. Sort of an inni-outti approach to economic development.

* How Washington works: “Many 2011 federal budget cuts had little real-world effect,” and many of the nominal cuts turned out not to be real, by reasonable definitions of “real.”

* “The Dissertation Can No Longer Be Defended,” which makes points that should be obvious to damn near everybody involved in the humanities section of academia.

* “A warning to college profs from a high school teacher,” which is actually about the stakes of student testing.

* New York Times “journalist” John Broder lies in Tesla Motors Model S review, gets called out for it.

Deep Inside: A Study of 10,000 Porn Stars;” highly data-driven and should be safe for work.

* “In early childhood education, ‘Quality really matters;’” that’s one reason Head Start doesn’t work particularly well as education right now. But it works okay as day care and pretty well as a jobs program.

* New York real estate: a study in price escalation.

* The Deadly Opposition to Genetically Modified Food;” this is reminiscent of vaccine scares: people have to die before pseudoscience is really attacked.

* “Taking Apprenticeships Seriously,” which we should have started doing a long time ago. College is not the magic answer to every social and economic quandary, as anyone who has taught at a non-elite college should know.

* Government, illustrated: “the cutback is in accord with what Charles Peters of The Washington Monthly used to call the “fireman first” principle. That is, if bureaucrats are told to take $x million out of their budget, they’ll fight back by making cuts where an $x million loss will be most instantly obvious to the public. Like closing the local firehouse — or canceling an air show.” This is also sometimes referred to as the Washington Monument Syndrome. Isaac has seen this in action personally when he was a redevelopment bureaucrat for cities in Southern California.

Sequestration Still Looms Over the Grant World: Two Months and Counting

I wrote about the potential impacts of the then-looming fiscal cliff a few weeks ago. At the last minute—actually, about a day after the last minute—Congress and President Obama awoke from their torpor and passed legislation, which what’s left of our media immediately hailed as “preventing the nation from going off the fiscal cliff.”

Well, not quite.

Lost in the fiscal cliff hubbub was the fact the fiscal cliff was actually a two-step fall. The first step downward—massive tax increases on almost all Americans—was indeed averted. The second part of the Cliff, sequestration, however, wasn’t addressed.

Rather, it was kicked down the road by about two months. As I pointed out in my earlier post, sequestration will impact the wonderful world of grants much more than tax increases. The former means significant reductions in discretionary grant funding, while the latter means more “money for nothing and chicks for free.”

Over the next few weeks, the battle lines over sequestration will form as the new Fiscal Cliff takes shape. This, too this will be a two-step Fiscal Cliff. Step one is our old pal sequestration, while the second part will be raising the federal debt ceiling. While the two steps are not inherently intertwined, the timing virtually ensures that the debates over both will be.

If you’re with a nonprofit that’s drifted back into somnolence because the Fiscal Cliff has been averted, shake yourself awake because the roller coaster is about to start again. In many ways,* coming to agreement on the largely non-raising of taxes was fairly easy for Congress and President Obama to agree on, compared to the coming battles over sequestration and raising the debt limit.

While understanding the byzantine politics of these two issues is above my pay grade, the eventual outcomes will likely include either decreases in federal spending on discretionary grant programs or, at a minimum, a reduction in the rate of increase. Either course will have significant impacts for grant seekers.


* Free proposal lead-in phrase in here.

Thirty day deadlines favor the prepared

The cliche goes, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” and we could repurpose it to, “Short deadlines favor the prepared nonprofit.” I have the dubious pleasure of reading the Federal Register every week and have noticed that deadlines are shrinking like hemlines. This means the organizations that apply with a complete and technically correct proposal are, even more than usual, the ones who don’t dawdle in deciding to apply and don’t procrastinate once they’ve made the decision.

If you’re thinking about applying for a grant with a thirty-day deadline, don’t take a week to mull it over. Take an hour. Need to wait on a board meeting? See if you can schedule an emergency meeting that night. Can’t do it? Text the chairperson immediately and set up a conference call. If you wait long enough, you won’t be able to get your application together, and, in an environment like this one, you don’t want to miss a deadline for a good program. It could be the life or death of your organization. Small delays tend to turn into big ones; don’t delay any part of the process any longer than you have to.

We sometimes find ourselves in a situation where a couple of clients hire us before a funder issues an RFP. Once the RFP is issued with a very short deadline, we get deluged with calls; as a result, we often have to say “no” to jobs because we lack the capacity and the time to do them. For us, this sucks, since we want to help our clients get funded. But we’re also unusual because we always hit our deadlines; part of the reason we can always hit deadlines is because we decline work if we can’t finish it.

This sometimes makes potential clients, who think hiring a consultant is like shopping at the Apple Store, irritated: “Whaddaya mean, you can’t write the proposal?” “We don’t have the capacity.” “That’s ridiculous! I’m ready to pay.” But consulting isn’t like stamping out another MacBook Air: it’s an allocation of time, and, like most people, we only have twenty-four hours in our days. While we can often accept very short deadlines, sometimes our other obligations mean we can’t. No matter how much it hurts to say “no,” we say it if we have to. This is one reason it is a good idea to hire in advance of a RFP being issued.

There are also situations with misleading or hidden double deadlines. For example, the HRSA Section 330 programs Isaac wrote about last week list application deadlines of October 12. But that deadline is only for the initial Grants.gov submission, which requires an SF-424, a budget, and a couple other minor things. Stuff you could do in a day. The real application—the HRSA Electronic Handbook (EHBs) submission—isn’t due until November 22. So what looks like thirty days is actually closer to two months, but only to people in the know (like those of you who read our e-mail grant newsletter; I’ve seen lots of sites present the October 12 deadline HRSA offered instead of the real deadline). If you’re not paying attention, you’re going to miss what’s really happening on the ground.

But you should still make your choice to apply for any grant program quickly, not slowly. Slow food might be a virtue, but slow grant application decision-making and proposal writing aren’t.

When Seliger + Associates began, the Internet was just breaking into the mainstream and relatively few nonprofits used computers in the workplace and few business and home computers had reliable Internet connection. Grant deadlines were routinely in the neighborhood of 60 days. They had to be: disseminating information about deadlines was slow, shipping hard copies of RFPs was slow, research was slow and required trips to libraries. Plus, there’s an element of fundamental fairness in giving nonprofit and public agencies enough time to think about what they’re doing, gather partners, solicit community input, decide to hire grant writers, and so forth, and funders appear to have lost interest in that issue. Now, nonprofits have to do this much faster. The ones that succeed are the ones who realize that circumstances on the ground have changed and then adapt to the new environment.

Links: Middle America, phony grant writers, federal spending, and more

* The decline of Middle America and the problem of meritocracy has some observations about small towns similar to what Isaac wrote in “Blue Highways: Reflections of a Grant Writer Retracing His Steps 35 Years Later.”

* Deficit Hawk Turns Dove at Home:

Mr. Conrad’s career shows how hard it is to trim spending, even for those committed to beating down the deficit. Lawmakers from both parties routinely scramble to protect or increase funding for home-state projects. Not since 1965 has Congress approved a budget smaller than the prior year’s.

Emphasis added. Budgets have been expanding for the last 45 years, although I doubt that number is adjusted for inflation.

* Scary, yet fascinating: “A Nation of Racist Dwarfs: Kim Jong-il’s regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.”

* The Seattle Times says a phony grant writing scam was operating in the city.

* The Fall of the House of Kennedy links current politics to JFK’s executive order that allowed the unionization of the federal workforce.

* I’ve seldom read a more hilarious yet intellectually engaged post than Miley Cyrus and American Exceptionalism.

* “But green jobs have become the ginseng of progressive politics: a sort of broad-spectrum snake oil that cures whatever happens to ail you.” And remember that no one appears to know what precisely a green job is.

* How Nokia helped Iran “persecute and arrest” dissidents.

* “What’s a Degree Really Worth?” The answer might be “not as much as you think;” still:

Most researchers agree that college graduates, even in rough economies, generally fare better than individuals with only high-school diplomas. But just how much better is where the math gets fuzzy.

But the article doesn’t deal with a) how much different majors earn and b) what students gain outside of mere earning power, which might not translate directly into money. The first is particularly significant: hard science majors tend to make way more than liberal arts majors like me.

* More gangs use Twitter, Facebook, apparently not realizing that both services track your IP address and leave law enforcement an easy evidence trail.

(I can imagine the headline from The Onion: “Area Gang Issues Threats in 140 Characters or Less.”)

* “The Real Danger of Debt: The United States is deep in the red — and doesn’t have the political tools to get out.”

* Tony Judt on “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” which is actually about academic sexual politics a la Blue Angels and Straight Man.

* TSA arrests a student for having Arabic flash cards. Something must be very, very wrong with that institution.

* Rethinking [Dumb] Sex Offender Laws for Teenage Texting.

* Worries about drugs in “middle-class America” have persisted for decades—at least since the 1960s, as Eric Schlosser shows in Reefer Madness. Here’s the latest: “
A lethal business model targets Middle America
: Sugar cane farmers from a tiny Mexican county use savvy marketing and low prices to push black-tar heroin in the United States.”

Isaac recently finished a book named Methland that describes the spectacularly negative impact of meth on small towns in the Midwest.

* The Wall Street Journal says that “Mergers, Closings Plague Charities.” But why would nonprofits having financial difficulties during the Great Recession be surprising? Even though the Conventional Wisdom is that charities “collaborate,” in reality they compete for grants, donations, volunteers, etc. Just like businesses, some with fall or rise in the face of uncertain economic times.

How Not to Get a Grant

Usually I write posts about how to get grants. Today I thought I would give some surefire ways to not get a grant . . .

  • Call/email/meet with a field deputy in the office of your senator, congressperson, governor, mayor, or city councilperson. Regardless of the project idea, the field deputy will be polite, encouraging, tell you how much the elected official would be willing to support your project, and give you vague generalities about grant programs. They will not, however, tell you to apply for program x, which is due on date y. Instead, they will spin Tales of Brave Ulysses, pat you on the head and send you off to make room for the next supplicant. In other words, you won’t get a grant, but you will have a new feeling of self-importance and, likely, an invitation to the politician’s next fund raiser.
  • Apply to government programs for which your organization is not eligible because you think the funder will recognize the critical importance of your project concept. The funder will throw out your proposal, but you will have achieved the high moral ground by Speaking Truth to Power, or as the Firesign Theater put it, providing Shoes for Industry.
  • Find the contact information for tons of foundations and send the same proposal to 100 foundations without looking at their guidelines. All of your proposals will be tossed without being read because you did not respond to what the funder wants, but you will have that same sense of satisfaction one gets from reorganizing one’s book/CD/shoe collection. You can also impress your board members by telling them how many proposals you submitted over the weekend and how bleary-eyed you are.
  • Fail to include attachments required by the RFP/guidelines because you think the requirement is dumb or is too much work. Also, ignore signature pages and the frequent requirement for a “wet signature”. Instead, depend on the funder giving you the benefit of the doubt, which they won’t do.
  • Include lots of unrequested stuff, like the ever-popular client testimonials, awards and newspaper clippings. And, don’t forget that DVD of your appearance on Oprah. This will demonstrate your inability to read guidelines, making it very easy for the initial reviewer to toss your proposal over their shoulder before it is read or scored.
  • Propose that you will use the requested grant to make grants to others. This way, you’ll be telling the funder that you should decide how their money is used. After all, why would a foundation that gives scholarships not want your organization to stand between them and needy students?
  • Submit a 40-page full proposal to a foundation that requests a two-page letter of inquiry because you couldn’t possibly summarize your brilliant project concept. You fail to remember that perhaps the greatest speech ever delivered is Lincoln’s 256 word Gettysburg Address. A foundation program officer who receives 50 proposals every week certainly wants to spend several hours savoring your profundities.
  • Propose using virtually the entire grant as a subcontract to another organization or vendor. This will make the funder understand that the role of your organization is to do nothing but apply for the grant and hand over the money to someone else to run the program. This is exactly what funders want in a grantee—complete abdication of organizational responsibility.
  • For electronic submissions, create fantastically complex files with embedded pictures, charts, etc., and make sure the file size exceeds 10 mb. Always wait until five minutes before the deadline before uploading. This way, you are virtually guaranteed to create corrupted files, which cannot be uploaded in time to meet the deadline. Then you can contact the funder and weep about the unfairness of the process, which they will ignore.
  • For paper submissions, use fancy binders, lots of color, and spend an inordinate amount of time on the presentation package. This will ensure that the funder realizes you don’t need the money and that you can focus on all the wrong aspects of grant writing by concentrating on style over substance.

I could go on with lots of other ways to ensure that your organization will not be funded, but you probably get the idea by now. If you actually want to get funded, read the technical posts we’re written and watch for future tips. Prepare the application according to the funder’s guidelines, no matter how obtuse. Learn how to write. Practice for years. Then you’ll know about the pitfalls listed above.

November 2009 Links: Governments, Foundations, Data, Broadband, Cities, and More

* US charities expecting lean holiday. This makes writing proposals even more important, as Isaac explained way back during 2008 in “Market Tanks, Donors Disappear, Corporate Givers Vanish: Not to Worry, This is a Great Time to Write Proposals.”

* How government policy defeats itself, with California as an example. That’s my title for the article, anyway; the NYTimes dubs it, “California’s Zigzag on Welfare Rules Worries Experts.”

* What’s Wrong With Charitable Giving—and How to Fix It.

* Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways according to Ian Urbina the New York Times. As Isaac said in a note to Urbina: “I loved the subject article, which reads just like one of our grant proposals . . . lots of anecdotes, a few well chosen, but meaningless, statistics from dubious sources, and an entirely specious argument. You would make a great grant writer.”

The article says things like, “Over the past two years, government officials and experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13.” Compare this to our advice in The Worse it is, the Better it is: Your Grant Story Needs to Get the Money and Finding and Using Phantom Data.

(Urbina should’ve referenced Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children, which covers this topic from the perspective of the economic boom times.)

* America can’t be the world’s tech leader without immigration reforms.

* Another round of broadband stimulus money should be coming soon.

* Why newspapers are important, part 10,122: “Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost to Health.” Few if any bloggers would go into anywhere near the depth Charles Duhigg does and can.

* Want 50Mbps Internet in your town? Threaten to roll out your own. This is from Ars Technica:

ISPs may not act for years on local complaints about slow Internet—but when a town rolls out its own solution, it’s amazing how fast the incumbents can deploy fiber, cut prices, and run to the legislature.

* The worst kind of good news on AIDS.

* The WSJ predicts “The Next Youth-Magnet Cities,” where D.C. ties for first with Seattle. No mention of Tucson on the list.

* Why are some cities more entrepreneurial than others?

* From the New York Times (and linked to by virtually every blog): Chicago’s [Olympic 2016] Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame? The thrust of the answer: at least in part. America’s immigration process is screwed up, and so is its border control, which manages to combine ineffectiveness with invasiveness.

* The Books of Brin—that’s Sergey Brin of Google fame.

* * Computers are less effective at improving developing world education than other, simpler measures, like de-worming.

* The bookcase staircase is very cool.

* A Brief History of Sex Ed in America. Notice how this relates to our post on the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program.

* On helping students to finish college in four years. Given how few students do finish in four, this is of major consequence for economic health.

* Japan shows that knowledge is power.

* Those who would sacrifice property rights to development end up with neither.

* 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee. This comes in visual form.

* Learn your damn homophones.

* Hard-Hit Factory Towns Slow to See Relief From Stimulus.

* Ryan Vent on Libertarians and their “transportation blindspot.”

Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) is the same as it ever was

As grant writers, we usually don’t pay much attention to new grant programs as they move through the regulation writing process, since we are focused on writing proposals, not the policy minutia of federal regs. A caller last week, however, got me to look at the birthing of the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), and I fell in love with this cute little grant puppy, eyes closed and all.

I immediately liked the fact that a lower case “i” is used in the name, which leads me to believe that perhaps archey the cockroach of archey and mehitabel fame, who jumped from the top of a typewriter to write his stories and couldn’t use the shift key, was involved in the development of the program. Part of the almost already forgotten American Recovery and Relief Act (ARRA, or otherwise known as the Stimulus Bill), i3 will offer up $650 million to “start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.” This is music to a grant writer’s ears because we could make just about any education project concept work for this nebulous description. Even better, both Local Education Agencies (“LEAs” = school districts in FedSpeak) and nonprofits are eligible.

This is just the latest in a long series of Department of Education grant programs that purport to do more or less the same thing, with few discernible results. i3 projects are supposed to:

  • improve K-12 achievement and close achievement gaps;
  • decrease dropout rates;
  • increase high school graduation rates; and
  • improve teacher and school leader effectiveness.

If there are any “research-based” strategies to accomplish any of the above, let me know, because in 38 years of writing endless Department of Education proposals, I’m not aware of them. If you think I am just a cynical grizzled grant writer, take a gander at the first four of the eight goals for the definitely forgotten Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which was passed in 1994 with much folderol:

By the Year 2000 –

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  • The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation’s modern economy.
  • United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

While Goals 2000 didn’t achieve any of its goals, or much of anything else in the real world for that matter, we wrote lots of funded Goals 2000 proposals and look forward to a target rich environment when the i3 RFP is published this winter. Perhaps archey should have named this effort “goals2010imeangoals2020imeandgoals2030” instead, or for that matter, g2. Attention school district and education-oriented nonprofits: as the Captain of the U-Boot in Das Boot said, “Good Hunting.”

While Secretary Duncan announced i3, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell in a “Free Man in Paris” the rest of the Department of Education “grantmaker machinery behind the popular program” continues to rumble on. A case in point is the Student Support Services (SSS) program, for which a RFP was recently issued with a due date of December 14. There is $268 million available for SSS, but no fanfare from Secretary Duncan.

Why? It’s simple–nobody pays attention to the old dog when a new puppy appears. SSS is one of the seven “TRIO” programs that fund various initiatives to “assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.” We’ve written lots of funded TRIO grants over the years. Some TRIO programs, like SSS, are aimed at college students, while others, like Talent Search and Upward Bound, focus on middle and high school students. Hmmm, methinks I could write an i3 proposal that mimics a TRIO proposal without the Department of Education figuring it out.

The reason that SSS causes little excitement, despite the enormous amount of money available, is that it’s been around since the Johnson administration! Everyone is rushing around to pat the i3 puppy on the head, while the old dog SSS barely gets noticed. At Seliger + Associates, however, we love all Department of Education dogs equally and are carefully grooming proposals for our SSS clients while we wait for i3 to be whelped.

I could go on with other Department of Education programs that have more or less the same purpose as i3 (e.g., Title I, Title III, No Child Left Behind, Smaller Learning Communities, Partnership Academies), but you get the idea. Regardless of the likely failure of this latest education reform effort, i3 is another great example of why this is such a wonderful time for grant writing, as I’ve been writing about in various blog posts since the Great Recession started a year ago. Given the various youth and other recession-based horror stories I cited recently in There’s Something Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones?, you can be assured that many more grant programs are gestating as I write this. The time to plan (or apply) is now, so that your public agency or nonprofit organization can swoop in. As the Talking Heads put it in “Once in a Lifetime”, for the Department of Education and other federal agencies, it’s “same as it ever was.”

Late August Links: Unintended Consequences, Multitasking, Government, Stimulus Madness, and More

* Isaac predicted that YouthBuild will run a new competition rather than use earlier grants; it looks like other parts of the federal government have done the same in response to the Stimulus Bill, with the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Program Recovery Act (ARRA) coming for another round of action.

* Speaking of schools, Steven Brill’s The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City’s worst teachers should be required for anyone interested in schools, teachers, charter schools, or grants related to education; it also describes one of many reasons I’m not a teacher.

* Telecom companies were rushing to meet the Aug. 14 BIP and BTOP deadlines, according to Business Week. This means they didn’t plan ahead: Seliger + Associates was not rushing to meet those deadlines for our clients.

* Speaking of fiber, Ars Technica says rural telcos are rolling out fiber to the home (ftth) while their urban counterparts languish with cable and DSL.

* I sent an e-mail to GAO report author Stanley Czerwinski on the subject of Grants.gov and our many writings about it over the past three years, figuring that he might be interested in people who actually use Grants.gov regularly and therefore probably know more about its flaws than anyone else. A guy named David Fox, who is a “Senior Analyst, Strategic Issues,” wrote back to say:

Thank you for contacting us about our recent report on Grants.gov. My director, Stanley Czerwinski, asked that I respond to your inquiry. We appreciate that you took the time to comment on our report and make us aware of your blog. As you may already know, we have issued several reports on Grants.gov and e-Government over the last few years. We will add your name and contact information to our distribution system so that you receive notice of any future work on Grants.gov.

Thank you again for your interest in our work.

This is an improvement over the e-mail I got from Tom Harrington of FEMA regarding the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, but in terms of form it still reminds me of Roger Shuy’s book, Bureaucratic Language in Government and Business.

* More from the busy department of unintended consequences: “The New Book Banning: Children’s books burn, courtesy of the federal government.” This is because the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) stops the selling of used children’s good produced before 1985, when lead was banned, unless those products conform to the post-1985 standards. Although lead in children’s books hasn’t been shown to be harmful, the books don’t pass muster anyway.

I am generally not an organized political person who writes angry letters to Congresspersons and such, but this might be worth an exception. Furthermore, see this post regulatory processes at their worst regarding the legislation in question. It’s hard not to admire Mattel’s Machiavellian expertise even as one abhors their ethics or lack thereof.

(Hat tip to Megan McArdle.)

* William Easterly on How it helps to teach NGOs as selfish. One might replace “NGOs” with “nonprofits” and make the same argument.

* No one actually multitasks. I agree.

* The Wall Street Journal warns of unintentional consequences from the Treasury Department’s efforts to regulate financial institutions:

Here’s a stumper: In the Treasury financial reform proposal, who comes in for more regulatory retooling: Fannie Mae, or your average 14-man venture capital shop? If you said venture capital, you understand why one of America’s greatest competitive advantages is now at risk in Washington.

(Compare this to Paul Graham’s comment in The Venture Capital Squeeze, when he says that venture capitalists should “lobby to get Sarbanes-Oxley loosened. This law was created to prevent future Enrons, not to destroy the IPO market. Since the IPO market was practically dead when it passed, few saw what bad effects it would have. But now that technology has recovered from the last bust, we can see clearly what a bottleneck Sarbanes-Oxley has become.”)

* The criminalization of poverty.

* Read Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians, which is excellent, as further described at the link.

* On criminals and signaling.

* Needle exchanges are effective—and the politics of “ick.”

* It was once a rule of demography that people have fewer children as their countries get richer. That rule no longer holds true.

* Cash for Clunkers is a clunker, says CNN commentator and painfully bad headline.

* Can Jazz Be Saved? The audience for America’s great art form is withering away.

* Stimulus Slow to Flow to Infrastructure, says the Wall Street Journal. The subhead could also say, “Duh.”