This month marks the third anniversary of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a major change in my own life. Having spent the last two years as a senior leader in the Partnership – an accomplishment for which I am very proud (but rather exhausted) - it felt time to turn in my federal badge for the long-time dreams of both spending more time with my two young boys and starting my own freelance consulting business. Like many women, trying to find the right balance between work and home is incredibly hard -- especially with a demanding but highly rewarding career and demanding but highly rewarding children. Ultimately, I came to the decision that it didn’t need to be an either/or choice, but rather a reshuffling of the deck. And now the real drama begins as I go through the process of launching my own business and of parenting tweens.
But before my federal time becomes a distant memory here are some quick insider thoughts on "the best kept secret in Washington." The Partnership for Sustainable Communities was launched by DOT, EPA and HUD in June 2009 before the Senate Banking Committee. Much is written about the Partnership – what it does, what it’s accomplished, and how it’s helping communities.
The premise behind the Partnership is that America deserves a government that is more responsive to the actual needs of communities and that is more flexible in how it works across agencies and with stakeholders. To save taxpayer money and create the tools necessary for communities to solve today’s problems requires empowering federal agencies to change ineffective and counterproductive rules and agency cultures. In essence, we saw our role as being Sustainable Problem Solvers.
While this may sound simple, it is much harder to pull off with a Congress that doesn’t understand how many of its programs are actually administered or implemented; a bevy of federal lawyers who’s first inclination is often to say no, and more recently by a few extreme ideologues who loudly believe that the only solution is no government, not smarter government.
At the same time we celebrate the 3rd year anniversary, funding for the Partnership is under assault. The US House of Representatives once again zeroed out funding for EPA’s Smart Growth Program, HUD’s Sustainable Communities grant program, and DOT’s TIGER program -- despite the overwhelming demand for these programs by local communities. Collaboration and problem solving are not in vogue these days on Capitol Hill, and apparently they don’t feel that it should exist elsewhere.
To save the Partnership each of us must make the time to voice our support for common sense problem solving and call on Congress to restore funding for the Partnership. It's simple, support the Senate’s funding levels. As someone who spent the last two years inside federal government, I'll admit there are some programs that don’t deserve continued funding. Smart government and collaboration though shouldn’t be on the cutting board.