10 Ways to Stay on Top of Changing Federal Grant Priorities in the Trump Administration
Our last blog post outlined likely grant priorities and changes under the Trump administration, drawn from a presentation that Rob Bradner and I gave at the annual Grant Professionals Association National Meeting in Atlanta shortly after the election. In that post, I cautioned that (1) things change rapidly during a transition of power and (2) the promises made in the campaign – in any campaign – get tempered by the political and economic realities in which the administration will govern. Our full presentation provides background information on these realities.
So given this, what can a grant professional do to plan for the coming year and years?
Two suggestions: Stay informed. Impact the changes.
To Stay Informed: As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Be sure you know what changes politicians and bureaucrats propose so you do not get blindsided by them. No shortage of pundits and opinions exist in the marketplace so try your best to get unbiased, factual information and check that information with trusted sources.
Pay attention as Trump builds his administration: Over the next weeks and months, the Trump administration will announce key nominations and appointments that will signal the direction the administration hopes to take in terms of its legislation. In the absences of direction on policy specifics from the White House, the administration will rely on these key advisors and Congress to determine the language and direction of bills so know who may influence policy in the coming years.
Listen to State of the Union and Inaugural addresses: Grants come from legislation; they serve as one of the major mechanisms by which the government implements its priorities. Listening to key policy speeches like these – and really listening – will give you an indication of the priorities that Trump plans to undertake in his first 100 days, first year, and throughout his tenure as president.
Read the budget proposals: The president has no power to enact legislation or spend money; Congress does that. They translate his priorities into potential action through the budgeting process. If you read the budget proposal, you can see what Congress proposes to add, enhance and cut from the national budget long before they become reality.
Watch spending bills: The budget proposal has no power until Congress enacts it which they do through a series of spending bills. Pay attention when a subcommittee debates a particular spending bill and the arguments they make. More importantly, what comes out of the committees becomes closer to the enacted budget than anything else we’ve discussed so far. If something does not make it out of committee, it has a slim to none chance of making it to the final budget.
Read the Federal Register and other federal publications: In addition to announcing grant programs, the Federal Register and other publications will tell you what bills will undergo debate when and the outcomes of those debates.
Subscribe to grants.gov and other federal funding alerts: Many associations have lobbyists who will send (often free) public alerts about the status of the budget and other hearings in DC that might impact a particular nonprofit segment. See if your association has one and sign up. If you do not belong to an association, find one that fits your organization’s needs and see if it becomes worthwhile to join. Or start your own group within which to share information. You can also look in other places for this information; I get these kinds of alerts from my financial advisor!
Get creative with project definitions and collaborations: When looking at federal funding opportunities, do not immediately dismiss something because it does not seem to fit your organization or priorities. Get creative. Might the military have an interest in or have an adaptive use for your work? Look to the Department of Defense. Building or expanding a property? Look at infrastructure programs. While you can never fit a square peg into a round hole, sometimes you can focus on that part of the square peg that fits into the round hole and create a successful grant application.
To Impact Change: The previous suggestions all focus on your role as a passive observer of the political process. You also have the option to influence change and the direction of public policy and resultant grant programs. Before embarking on these suggestions, check with your legal counsel to assure that you do not jeopardize your nonprofit status by engaging in lobbying activities.
Talk to your local elected officials: They exist to serve your needs. They cannot serve your needs if they do not know what needs exist. Tell them! They may also have a passion or need they have identified but do not know the best way to make that change happen. You might be the answer they seek. When you talk to your elected officials, tell them what you do, stories about your constituents and, if appropriate, how pending or planned legislation will help or hurt your mission and constituents (and why). These very bright people only have so many hours in the day to learn about all of the problems that face our nation and everything going on in their districts. Help educate them.
Talk to program officers at key government agencies: Program officials will stay on top of the legislation that impacts their organization (and jobs!) so call and make friends with those at the organization from which most of your funding comes. Don’t call weekly to ask for an update; do your homework and call them periodically to ask how they see specific pending legislation impacting their programs. Ask what you can do to help them achieve their goals (likely of restored or increased funding). Their funds come from Congress so they may direct you back to suggestion #8.
Interject in spending bills: Wonder if your organization qualifies for a particular grant? The qualifications will come through the spending bill. For example, if you believe that “look-a-like” organizations should have the opportunity to compete for funds set aside for Federally Qualified Health Centers, talk to your legislator about getting that language changed. Here, you might need a more concerted effort that includes letters written from your constituents or getting other organizations involved – preferably across the country so that you have multiple legislators on your side.
In Rob’s immortal words, “If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.” Create a seat at the table for your organization and agenda rather than sitting on the side lines waiting for change to happen to you.