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WH Office of Urban Affairs

White House Announces Second Annual Place-based Budget Review

The White House released more budget guidance in a memo to federal agencies on June 21 that underlined its continued commitment to place-based policies. The news was announced by Derek Douglas on June 30 on the White House Office of Urban Affairs blog. Douglas serves on both the staff of that office and on the Domestic Policy Council staff, where he leads the DPC’s work on urban and metropolitan policy issues.

The memo is similar to one released a year ago and expands on a third memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget released on June 8. Most of the latest memo focuses on the role of place-based policies in economic growth, including the Sustainable Communities Initiative. We haven't given much attention to those policies because of our focus on neighborhoods, but clearly the administration views them as all fitting together.

As we have noted before, in tight budgetary times the future of place-based programs will be based on reconfiguring existing federal programs. More evidence for that can be found in the following section of the latest memo, which directs agencies to look for programs that don't work and those that do, presumably in an effort to shift funding around.

Please include the following as a separate section in your FY 2012 budget submission, due to OMB on September 13, 2010:

  • Identify the place-based programs or initiatives that you believe show special promise for achieving better outcomes, whether the place-based approach is well-established or newly proposed. In so doing, please give special emphasis to programs that promote economic growth. These policies should be within OMB Guidance (M-10-19) and cost effective. For each, please explain the policy’s measurable outcomes, using empirical evidence to the degree possible. In addition, please provide options for improving the intra- or inter-agency coordination and effectiveness of the proposed policy.
  • Identify the existing place-based programs or policies within OMB Guidance (M-10-19) that are not cost effective and that you would propose to reduce, terminate, or significantly restructure due to inefficiencies or ineffectiveness. Please explain why you have reached this determination, using empirical evidence to the degree possible.

This guidance will be discussed in meetings with agencies that OMB and DPC will schedule this summer. Agencies are also encouraged to work with their OMB RMO and their policy council contacts to identify candidate programs. OMB will weigh these questions throughout the process of policy development for the President’s FY 2012 Budget.

WhoRunsGov: White House Urban Office Reset

Amanda Erickson, a blogger at the Washington Post-owned WhoRunsGov, wrote an update yesterday on the White House Office of Urban Affairs.

Adolfo Carrión, the former head of the office, left the position more than a month ago and joined HUD. According to the WhoRunsGov news report, no one has been named to fill the position and it may be because no one wants the job.

“We are reluctant to offer a mayor up,” said Tom Cochran, National Conference of Mayors. The reason, he said, is that the official doesn’t have enough power to get anything done. Instead, he has become something of a goodwill ambassador, meeting with mayors across the country to gather their ideas.  But then nothing happened.

Erickson continues:

Obama created the new Office of Urban Policy to organize various departments – like Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency – around common urban goals.

Those meetings are happening – but insiders say that Carrión wasn’t the one leading the charge. He “just could not wave his magic wand and get four or five cabinet officers to come his way,” Cochran said.

This is a bit of a misreading of the role of that office in our view. Under the leadership of Carrión, one of its roles was certainly public relations and the urban policy tour was part of that.  But there has been a second role happening behind the scenes at the staff level in close coordination with the Domestic Policy Council, and that is to play a mediating and coordinating role between the agencies on the emerging place-based agenda. Much of that work was not done by Carrión, but by other staff who are still there.

The only downside of that office is that they aren't talking enough about the good things they are accomplishing. That may just be part of the usual staff culture in Washington (i.e, a behind-the-scenes orientation that is typical for staff at the White House, Congress, or elsewhere -- although not so much here at BN, obviously). Moreover, this White House is known for being a fairly tight ship when it comes to media relations and outreach, which frustrates reporters and reporter wanna-bes like us.

Regardless, they really should speak up. The president deserves credit for what they are accomplishing and the White House staff is well positioned to do that. (Hmm, I wonder who might be interested in interviewing them?)

Either way, a month is really only a short time to have a position open. We shouldn't read much into that, at least not yet.

President, Carrión Deserve Credit

Adolfo Carrión is leaving the White House Office of Urban Affairs and joining the staff over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to a HUD announcement released late on Monday, May 3. He will become the Regional Director for New York and New Jersey.

Carrión's tenure has been criticized by some (see also this Village Voice and  Politico item), but not by us, other than noting some of the rumors and saying we wish they would communicate with us more. But that's small stuff. We reserve our right to harmless rumor mongering, speculation, and griping.

There is a far better reason not to be overly critical in this case: reality.

You wouldn't know it from reading the press accounts, but the administration has actually accomplished quite a lot. Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, there is real progress on these fronts. If those are too small, dollar-wise, look at ARRA. Then look at the budget reality this nation is confronting.

Let's get real. This president is the best friend urban America has had in the White House since Lyndon Johnson. They can't say it, but somebody should. The media need to look at the real record of accomplishment and then look closer, because it's still unfolding in front of our eyes.

Criticism goes with the territory, but let's also be fair. The administration deserves credit where credit is due.

Media Speculate About WH Urban Office Head's Future

The New York-focused web site City Hall has published an interesting article that speculates about the political future of White House urban affairs chief Adolfo Carrión.

The New York rumor mill apparently believes that Carrión is itching to return to New York and is particulary interested in positioning himself to be Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's running mate when he runs for governor later this year. Carrión has also talked about possibly running for mayor of New York in 2013.

Our interest in Carrión is his current role as head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, where he has received mixed reviews. According to the article:

As Rep. John Mica of Florida, a Republican who is the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, watched Carrión speak in Manhattan, he said that Carrión was a virtual unknown among those in Congress.

“I think that this is the first time I’ve seen him,” Mica said.

Some observers say Carrión’s duties overlap with those of Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s head of intergovernmental affairs, who is also charged with breaking the “silos” between federal agencies, though with a broader focus.

In addition, some federal agency heads have formed new, more urban-friendly policies independent of Carrión, including former New York City housing commissioner Shaun Donovan, now the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to Diana Lind, editor and publisher of Next American City, a national magazine that covers urban policy.

HUD has a staff of some 5,000 people. Carrión’s office, meanwhile, has a staff of only four. He does not have any formal lawmaking or policymaking responsibilities.

A lack of formal power has limited Carrión’s influence, but despite the limits of his office, questions also still remained about whether someone besides Carrión who would have had a stronger policy background could have played a bigger role.

“If there were a different director, maybe they would have been capable of pressuring the Obama administration,” Lind said.

Instead, Carrión’s role has largely evolved into traveling around the country to promote his the president's urban agenda and bring information from local officials back to Washington. During one recent week, Carrión met with the new mayor of Atlanta, flew to New Orleans to speak with the new mayor there, spoke at Harvard, met with the mayor of Boston, then came to New York City for the speech at the Waldorf Astoria.

Carrión said he had been happy with his role in the administration, noting that when he first convened an intergovernmental meeting of departments that deal with urban policies, 17 of them showed up, instead of the expected 10, and that these meetings have continued regularly. He said this shows the president’s enthusiasm for pursuing an urban-friendly agenda.

WH Office of Urban Affairs Web Site Launched

The White House today (March 1) announced the creation of a new web site for its Office of Urban Affairs. In a blog entry posted on the official White House blog late this afternoon, Adolfo Carrión, Jr. announced the creation of the new site, writing:

Here’s how the website works: on our Initiatives page, you get a glimpse of the work we are doing to align Federal urban policy, like our Urban Tour and our Inter-Agency working group on urban policy. At our Innovation and Ideas page, you’ll have a chance to submit your ideas and best practices. And of course, you can find my staff and I blogging on the work that we’re doing, and you can learn more about our office in the About Us section.

Despite significant work behind the scenes in coordinating the internal White House interagency working group and the more public urban tour, the work of this office has been hard to track, at least for us (and we are among those who care a great deal about its work). The establishment of this web site is an important step in the right direction, though it will need more content.

Perhaps symbolically, the "About Us" web page is broken. Hopefully they will have that fixed soon (smile).

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by Dr. Radut