Transformation and Sustainability Plan Update

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Dear Friends,

It has been three months since I shared with you the Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) Transformation and Sustainability Plan, a set of goals designed to make CNCS more efficient, effective, and accountable to better serve our customers, meet the needs of the Nation, and be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. 

Our plan includes six goals that resulted from months of intensive review of our operations and programs. That process took into account a wide range of ideas and recommendations from staff, grantees, national service members, the Office of Management and Budget, Congress, the Office of the Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, as well as many years of CNCS evaluations and reports.  

As CEO, implementing our plan remains my top priority. The goals address critical issues for sustaining a strong, high-performing agency equipped to support our large and decentralized system of national service. While this plan entails change, I want to stress three things that are important to our state and community stakeholders:

  • This plan will not change our mission to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.
  • This plan will not impact the funds going to states and communities.
  • Since CNCS’s inception, the agency has been repeatedly recommended for elimination or significant reduction in budget proposals. We cannot ignore the concerns that have been raised about our agency. CNCS turns 25 years old this year, and we want it positioned to support the growth of national service for another 25 years and beyond.

Since the announcement of the plan, I have spent time listening to you, our grantees, sponsors, and stakeholders, as well as the Administration and members of Congress, seeking feedback and requesting your best ideas for accomplishing the goals outlined in the plan. CNCS hosted seven in-person and teleconference listening sessions attended by more than 500 individuals, met with many national and community service stakeholders, and received official comments from more than 260 individuals and organizations. My team and I have also met with a number of key Congressional stakeholders to further discuss our plan and its impact on national service. This listening period enabled me to hear what is on your minds, including what aspects of the plan you support, what aspects you have concerns about, and most valuably, how to best move forward. 

Across the verbal and written comments, many themes emerged including:

  • Goal #1: Strengthening core business functions. Your comments focused overwhelmingly on the need to (a) modernize our grants and member management system and (b) make it easier to complete the criminal history check, which today creates a significant burden and yields an unacceptable level of improperly-performed or late checks. On systems, we heard how important it is to develop a modern, reliable IT system and that CNCS should ensure stakeholders are at the table to help us design a customer-friendly product. On criminal history checks, we heard clearly about the need for a national channeler to handle the complex criminal history check process so you can focus on your core mission. On this front, I am pleased to announce CNCS has engaged a national vendor that will offer a new option starting this fall. You will be hearing more detail on this soon.

  • Goal #2: Improving efficiencies and effectiveness in our grants management and monitoring. We heard about many cases of uneven delivery of CNCS services across both programs and states, and about the importance of program and monitoring staff being knowledgeable about grants and program topics. Many comments focused on the importance of adequate training for agency staff, as well as strengthening collaboration between CNCS state offices and state service commissions. As we move forward, we will stay focused on ensuring any changes in roles or structure will (a) make it easier for you to interact with our agency; and (b) respond to the concerns of the Government Accountability Office, Office of the Inspector General, and others about problems that could arise when those who are responsible for providing technical assistance also oversee compliance.

  • Goal #3: Prioritizing evidence-based interventions. Many of you agreed with this goal; however, concerns were raised about implementing it in practice. Some cited inadequate resources to test programs for impact, as well as service activities that have not yet developed evidence-based models. I want to emphasize this remains a directional goal, and CNCS will continue to identify and invest in innovative approaches to address local needs. Nevertheless, continuing to ramp up our investment in evidence-based interventions is essential to maximizing the impact of our limited national service resources.

  • Goal #4: Simplifying and streamlining the application process. While this goal focuses on simplifying the existing application and working toward the deployment of a more common application across all programs, many comments emphasized the equally great opportunity to simplify grants management requirements and procedures. I believe we all share the goal of wanting to streamline the process across the entire award and member lifecycle.
  • Goal #5: Simplifying the CNCS brand. We heard broad recognition that the agency and its programs need a more consistent and recognizable brand identity. While we heard many perspectives on what this could and should look like, there is agreement about making sure more Americans easily understand the service we perform through our programs and initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to create a brand that explains national service in a concise and clear fashion, and aligns with the great work we are supporting in communities throughout the country.

  • Goal #6: Aligning our workforces and workplaces to a consistent, regionalized structure. We received many comments about the differences between CNCS programs, the importance of on-the-ground knowledge, and how much you value your program and grants officers, whether located in a state office, one of our multi-state offices, or at agency headquarters. We also heard concerns questioning if this goal would impact the level of technical assistance you value today from CNCS staff. While I recognize change can be unsettling, our intent is to strengthen the level of service provided by our agency. To accomplish this, we must (a) provide more consistent program delivery to current and prospective grantees, sponsors, members, and volunteers; (b) create organizational depth to ensure continuity in operations; and (c) expand career opportunities for our high-quality staff.

In addition to these common themes, you offered many other helpful suggestions for how CNCS can work with grantees, sponsors, members, volunteers, and other stakeholders to strengthen the delivery of national service programs. 

I want to thank those who took the opportunity to provide input at this stage of our planning. Your comments spanned a wide spectrum respective to each goal and provided many helpful reminders of the potential impacts of change that we will need to navigate. They also reaffirmed my belief that this plan is on the right path. It is important to stress this plan does not contemplate change to the program funds that flow into our states and communities – several streams of which are statutorily and formulaically prescribed. Rather, it intends to strengthen the foundation of our decentralized service delivery model to ensure CNCS can support the growth of national service.

Progress on each of these goals will move at different paces. I am committed to leveraging the incredible passion, expertise, and insight of our customers, staff, and stakeholders in the further design and implementation of the plan. Our responsibility is too great and our mission is too important not to make the improvements necessary to strengthen CNCS’s foundation. This will position us to create more opportunities for Americans to serve their communities and our Nation.

I look forward to keeping you updated and engaged on our progress, and working alongside you over the months ahead.

Warmest regards,

Barbara signature

Barbara Stewart
Chief Executive Officer
Corporation for National and Community Service