Last week three members of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Working Group jointly wrote a piece for a White House Office of Urban Affairs blog describing their work.
The content of the post was interesting, but it was far more interesting that they were finally coming out from behind the curtain and, in so doing, seemed to be signaling the importance of a broader neighborhood agenda beyond Promise and Choice Neighborhoods.
We think that's exciting.
Among the programs they mentioned were two that we have not given much attention to in the past. One was Community Health Centers -- and we will need to give that more attention soon. The second was the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, which we have given some attention to, but only some.
Our guest today is Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff to the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice. We asked him about this program and the role of public safety in neighborhood programs.
Building Neighborhoods: Thank you for joining us. You are a member of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Working Group that recently reported on some of its work on a White House blog. Our readers are highly interested in the neighborhood-focused programs that are being pulled together by the administration, including those coming from the Department of Justice. What can you tell us about DOJ's plans?
Thomas Abt: As you noted, the Department of Justice is actively participating in the Administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Working Group, which seeks to provide assistance to distressed communities in the form of better coordinated programs at the federal level that we hope encourages coordination at the local level. Specifically, the Department has proposed a new initiative for Fiscal Year 2011 called the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, which builds upon the solid concepts found in the current Weed and Seed Program and then goes further in terms of its emphasis on evidence-based programming and facilitating collaboration among federal and local partners. It’s too soon to know for certain whether Congress will approve funding for the new initiative, or at what level, but we’re hopeful.
Building Neighborhoods: I know it is early, but can you tell us a bit about how you envision this program bridging silos and connecting to some of the other programs in the neighborhood revitalization bucket, like Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods? Can you tell us about the administration's approach to cross-departmental collaboration more generally?
Thomas Abt: It is early, but we are working closely with Education and HUD to meaningfully coordinate the Byrne, Promise and Choice programs. We are also working with other federal agencies, such as HHS. We believe that federal coordination means having the relevant agencies working together from the beginning. It also means pushing beyond simply co-locating programs in order to offer some form of streamlining in terms of the application process, receiving funding, reporting or possibly all three. We’re mindful of the burdens that local stakeholders often bear when working with multiple federal agencies, and we hope to ease at least some of those burdens with this work. Still, the federal government can move slowly, and progress is likely to come incrementally. We do feel a sense of urgency and are working hard on this, however.
Building Neighborhoods: Silo busting does not just take place at the national level, although we are certainly interested in that, it also takes place at the neighborhood level. Many of our readers are currently assembling local partnerships as part of Promise or Choice Neighborhoods applications. Many of them intend to press forward regardless, even if they receive no federal funding. What relationships or other activity should they be putting in place now to prepare for the programs that are coming from DOJ?
Thomas Abt: Thank you for this question - it really goes to the heart of what the Neighborhood Revitalization work is all about. We believe that in order to encourage collaboration at the local level, then we must “walk the walk” at the federal level. I think this Administration values collaboration and is able to “bust silos” more effectively because at the agency level, we understand that the White House expects us to work together. As many of your readers know, meaningful coordination in government requires a lot of hard work, but I think we’re making solid progress, even if it may not be immediately apparent to the field just yet.
I’m also glad to hear that local stakeholders aren’t waiting for the federal government in order to start building their teams. Interconnected problems require interconnected solutions, so having solid partnerships across silos is critical when dealing with neighborhood issues. One of our fundamental goals here at the Office of Justice Programs is to build partnerships in criminal and juvenile justice, and not just within our fields, but with other fields as well. Our advice would be to be sure that local (and even possibly federal) law enforcement is at the table when discussing neighborhood revitalization. Policing and law enforcement has changed over the years, and most of us understand that making arrests is only part of the solution and are increasingly supportive of prevention, intervention and reentry activities. To be “tough on crime,” we also have to be “smart on crime” – that’s what our Attorney General believes.
Building Neighborhoods: Can you tell us about how public safety and law enforcement complement other neighborhood programs more generally?
Thomas Abt: Public safety plays a key role in revitalizing distressed neighborhoods. If residents don’t feel safe, it can be difficult for other policy initiatives to get off the ground. Crime affects everything from a child’s ability to learn, to property values, to resident health and well-being. Most of us in law enforcement recognize that we can’t be successful fighting crime without solid partners in the community, but that desire for partnership must be reciprocated. In some communities, building these coalitions won’t be easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile in the long run.