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Transcript for Event: How can local governments shed more light on pandemic relief spending in their communities?

Event: Roundtable: How can local governments shed more light on pandemic relief spending in their communities?

 

Transcript text:

Lisa Reijula:
I'm Lisa Reijula. I'm the Associate Director for Outreach and Engagement at the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or the PRAC, your host today for this great discussion on how state and local governments are promoting transparency into the spending of federal pandemic relief money. A little bit about the PRAC, very quickly, since we are already late. We were created by Congress in March 2020 to provide independent oversight of what is now more than $5 trillion in pandemic relief spending. We count 21 federal inspectors general as our members. And our mission is twofold. We're here to protect pandemic relief from fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, and to promote transparency, to let the public and policy makers know where the money went, and then whether it reached those it was intended to help.
    At the PRAC, we're focused on ensuring transparency and accountability regarding more than 400 federal pandemic relief programs. As part of our transparency mission, the CARES Act required the PRAC to create a public facing website within the first 30 days of our existence, to track the money. We met that milestone, and we're very proud of our website, pandemicoversight.gov. It opens up data for the public to help people understand how their tax dollars were used. It also empowers the public. The average citizen can search through the data. If they see a red flag, they can blow the whistle on that to us, through our hotline. It's also the only place where you can find over 400 Pandemic Oversight Reports that have been issued by the federal inspectors general, and we also have more than 200 Pandemic Response Reports from state and local auditors.
    From the earliest days of the pandemic, we recognized the importance of partnering with state and local actors, as well as the government accountability office. And we've seen our independent oversight greatly enhanced by these close partnerships. And so today, that's part of the partnership. We're really excited to welcome five panelists to this event. They're going to discuss how they used data, digital tools, to provide their residents with critical information as to how federal program dollars have been spent in their communities, and also how they used that data to evaluate impact, have these programs been effective. As folks on the call likely know, states and localities received unprecedented levels of federal funding, through the Coronavirus Relief Fund and the CARES Act, some $150 billion Fiscal Recovery Fund that was part of the American Rescue Plan, providing direct funding to states, counties, cities, tribes and territories.
    However, prior to the release, recently, in late May of this year, release of SLFRF Expenditure Data, transparency into how recipients spent this money fell mainly on local and state governments. And the level of transparency and the information available has varied widely by location. So today, we're showcasing examples of innovative approaches that each of the people on the screen that you see here have used to inform the public in their communities. I'm also happy to announce today that the PRAC has released a brand new interactive dashboard, featuring the SLFRF Expenditure Data that is currently publicly available, making that information even more accessible to the public. So you'll hear more about our website and get a quick tour of those dashboards later in the program, from Andrea Lynn with the PRAC, but I encourage any state and local offices or media that hung with us and dialed in, to please reach out to us directly, we're always happy to walk you through the data.
    But now, without any further ado, let's turn to our great panel. Please put questions into the Q&A feature, if you have questions for the panelists, and we'll get to as many as we can.
    If I could have each of you briefly introduce yourselves. Tell us a little bit about your role, your organization, and how your work relates to the topic of today's round table. Maria, could I start with you?

Maria Filippelli:
Awesome. Sure. So thanks, Lisa, and thanks, PRAC, for the invite to today's round table. Super excited to share the work that we've been doing around the SLFRF funding.
    So, hi, I'm Maria Filippelli. I'm the Data Director at the Southern Economic Advancement Project, or SEAP. SEAP as an organization works to advance policies that improve economic security, healthcare access and environmental justice across 12 Southern States. When it comes to the pandemic relief spending, we act as an information and technical bridge, between the federal policy and local implementation. In terms of transparency, our goal is to provide reliable and timely data for our partners. We're following a subset of southern cities throughout their state and local funding allocation process. And the resource we created to share this information about funding allocations is an interactive dashboard, and then we complement that with quarterly reports and updates.

Lisa Reijula:
Perfect. Thank you so much, Maria. Could I go next to Zach?

Zach Markovits:
Sure. Thanks, Lisa. My name is Zach Markovits. I'm the Vice President and Local Practice Lead at Results for America. Thank you, PRAC, for having us here. Well, I help to manage and oversee all of our work with local governments at Results for America. RFA works with governments at all levels, to help them use data and evidence to deliver better results for residents. And we believe the power in government to make substance change those who live within their jurisdictional bounds and have the last decade, worked through a variety of initiatives to ensure that data can be used as a public good to help solve problems faster in collaboration with the communities. And openness is one key way to build trust, engagement and equity in the community.
    Over the last few years, RFA has been really hyper focused on budgetary concerns and opportunities, such as our leadership with the What Works Cities City Budgeting for Equity & Recovery Program, that focused on developing actual resources for cities who are working to budget for equity. And the most recently, and related to this conversation today [inaudible 00:05:59] both the American Rescue Plan, and now the bipartisan inter legislation as this critical moment in which [inaudible 00:06:09] the dollars to, Lisa as you mentioned, the state and local government have the power to change how governments can operate in this country.
    So I'm really looking forward to talking to you today about one part of this work, which has to do with a dashboard that we built in collaboration with Mathematica, looking at how communities are spending the state and local fiscal relief dollars, the SLURF dollars, on data and evidence capacity building, and delivering sort of a new form of government for the future.

Lisa Reijula:
Perfect. Thank you so much, Zach, for being here. Julie, can I turn it to you next?

Julie Demuth:
Sure. Thanks Lisa. Hi everyone. I'm Julie Demuth. I'm the Assistant Director of Budget and Performance here at Pierce County. We are the second largest county in Washington State. We received 158 million in CARES Act funding in 2020, and then a total of about 176 million in ARPA funds. And so my team has been taking the lead in administering those funds. We've also take the lead in all of our transparency dashboards. So we make all of our expenditure data allocation, budgetary data, available to the public. And we also use that to report out to our elected officials. So I look forward to talking to you today.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks Julie. Lisa, how about over to you next?

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
Sure. Thanks. My name is Lisa Martinez-Templeton and I'm Chief Economist and Data Scientist for the city and county of Denver. [inaudible 00:07:36] within the department of finance. And so team tapped to head up, similar to Julie's group, just sort of the tracking and performance and data piece of the ARPA funding. And so we were the ones that were tasked with building out the transparency dashboards and letting, again, the public as well as elected officials, so from the mayor's office to city council, et cetera, see really where this funding was going.

Lisa Reijula:
Thank you so much. And Nicolas, how about you?

Nicolas Diaz:
Sure. Thank you so much for the invitation. My name is Nicolas Diaz. I am the Chief Innovation and Data Officer for the City of Syracuse, and I lead the Office of Accountability, Performance and Innovation. And my team has a broad mandate, but among the things that we do is we handle the data practice, internal data practice of the city, pushing different departments to be more data driven, as well as our different performance management efforts. So when when the city was gearing up to receive the SLFRF funding, which I'll just refer to as ARPA from now on, that is easier to say. When we were getting ready to spend the ARPA money, the mayor asked my team to be in the governance group for the ARPA projects.
    And we helped put together the internal reporting and governance mechanisms, and then develop a dashboard. In part because we wanted to bring that transparency focus so that we could inform citizens on how the city was performing when it came to spending our ARPA dollars. But also because we wanted to use this big transformational investment as a way to develop more rigorous data driven practice internally, more project management standards, and make it a habit that we are using metrics to make sure our own performance internally.

Lisa Reijula:
Thank you, Nicolas. And I think we'll have to do a quickfire question at the end, whether you prefer SLFRF, FRF or Zach said SLURF, very curious what everybody has been using locally. Thank you all so much. So we're going to get started soon with the tour of different dashboards, different features. I'll turn it, to lead us through that, over to Andrea Lynn, that if her screen share is working, she's kind of going to ground us a little bit with what we have on pandemicoversight.gov, high level on the federal level, and then go around our panelists to show different ways that you've been tracking pandemic relief dollars. Andrea?

Andrea Lynn:
Everyone, appreciate you hanging in there with us today. My name is Andrea Lynn, and I'm a Data and Policy Analyst on the Transparency Team here at the PRAC. And what that means, on our team we're really focused on bringing in all the pandemic funding data and putting it on our website and making it clear and easier for the public to use. And we, I'm sure many of you can relate but maybe not in this quick timeframe, we had a mandate that was in 30 days of being created, we had to have a website up and running. And the federal government isn't known for being super speedy at technology, so it definitely was a big charge for us. We had to figure out how we were going to bring in the data, what users would actually need and want to use. And we have like 22 million rows of data, so we are really proud of what we've created in such a short amount of time. And we're constantly iterating on it. And today, in fact, we just launched three new dashboards showing the SLFRF, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
    So we're constantly trying to bring in and show new data in a way that will be most useful for the public. So I'm just going to walk through a couple things on our site. There's a lot to dig into. But for the interest of time, we'll just dig into a couple things. Let's see. Okay.
    I think you all should be able to share my screen, but someone speak up if you can't. So this is our homepage. This is where we highlight newer stories, dashboard is really proud of some oversight reports. And as you scroll down, we also have information about the most recent stories we've published, including the event we're in right now, relevant news stories. And then at the bottom we have what we lovingly refer to as our donut. This high level overview of the $5 trillion that's been spent on pandemic funding, it goes through the high level categories with descriptions and the high level numbers.
    And then at the top we have, this where I spend most of my time, which is the data and interactive tools tab. And this is our new Interactive Dashboards page. We had it here before, but we've revamped it a couple hours ago, so we're really excited about that. And here are our three new dashboards. Clicking into the SLFRF Dashboard. This is data we have been anxiously waiting for because it's the expenditure data for how recipients are spending SLFRF money. And we got this from Treasury in May. They published on their website. But it was put in a spreadsheet which probably the panelists on this call would all halfway download and look into. But for us, we really are focused on how can the American public quickly see what's in this without having to do pivot tables and things like that.
    So this way we have, you can scroll over states and see, these are all the recipients that are reported in this period of time within the state, how much they received, how much they've obligated, how much they've spent. And when you click on a state, it will filter on the side. And then you can also search. So I'm coming to you from Los Angeles, so you can search Los Angeles and it has to sync. And then, so both the city and the county was a recipient. So we click on the city. We can see on the side, how much they obligated, how much they estimated the revenue loss was, how many projects they funded.
    And probably my favorite part is that you can also see what sort of project categories this funding fell into. So we can see there were 13,000 projects in this period, 3,700 of those were public health projects for $2.2 billion. And when you click on that, it'll filter and show the subcategories. So you can see 294 were related to vaccination. So I just think that's really interesting and helps with getting into the nitty-gritty of how this money is being spent. We're really excited to keep receiving iterating on this data. And I think this is probably the page that's most useful to those panelists on this call and attendees on this call. So we really hope you dig in there. And if there's anything you think from your jurisdictions that we should highlight on our site of where you're spending your money, please reach out, we always want share more state and local stories.
    So I'll stop sharing. And I want to turn over to the panelists. I'm sure many of you have faced similar challenges in standing up transparency website, either for your city or county government, like Julie, Lisa and Nicolas, or as part of a broader organization, like Zachary and Maria. But despite those challenges, you all have amazing websites, which is why we asked you to be here today. And we'd love to turn it over to you and highlight one or two things, take a minute or two, and just highlight features you think that you're really proud of, you think is really useful to the public, things like that. So I'll start with you, Julie.

Julie Demuth:
All right. Just hoping technology works today. Can you see my screen? No, not yet. Can you see it now?

Andrea Lynn:
Yes.

Julie Demuth:
Okay. So this is our overall homepage, I'll call it. This is our transparency website, which we've called Open Pierce county. We launched this back in 2018. So we were fortunate enough to have a transparency foundation in place when the pandemic hit. We built out a bunch of data in 2020 related to our CARES Act spending. But what I'll show you today is what we have in place for our ARPA funds, our American Rescue Plan funds. So we show our overall COVID-19 expenditures, so inclusive of all relief funds that we received. And then we also focus specifically on American Rescue Plan funding, so how we've allocated it, how we've expended it to date. And then we have a program service level and impact. So essentially our performance measures for our priority programs.
    So if I go down to expenditures, through June 23rd, our financial data is updated on a weekly basis, we've expended $31 million. And then we have a couple of charts where a user can drill into the data. So this shows essentially how we've allocated by program. So we've allocated four strategic areas, community response and resilience, economic stabilization and recovery, essential government services, and then our public health emergency response. So if you click into these areas, you can then see how those funds have been allocated by particular programs. You can also drill into the specific vendor or recipient of those funds. So for this first one, we allocated and spent $5 million towards acquiring a hotel to help address homelessness. So lots of data around our expenditures. And then we have some of our input/output performance measures in our public health emergency response area. Most of these efforts we've completed. Our health department is a separate entity, and so they've kind of taken on the long term address to the pandemic.
    But then for our broader programmatic areas, what we try and provide is information. This is our Rollback Relief Grant Program that we had for businesses. So we expended 6.9 billion on that. We show who the recipients of those funds were, how many were minority owned businesses, women owned businesses, veteran owned businesses. And then we show it geographically. So these blue areas are qualified census tracks. So we're kind of tracking how much of the funding is going to those target areas and then across the county. So in a nutshell, that's kind of what we do for our broad programmatic areas, but I know we're short on time, so I will turn it over to the next person.

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
I think that's me. So this is Lisa, let me go ahead and share my screen. Again, I'm with Denver. And so this is just our website that we have posted up and you can navigate to, we launched a specific ARPA website. And on here, we've got, this is our dashboard that details the funding. And so on here, we've got expenditure, so that tracks with sort of the federal government definitions of it. But then we also have recovery categories, which this is how we presented this to the public and city council, et cetera. And so, you're able to go in and filter on whichever feature you would like. You can then see which agency is in charge of it. And then within the projects themselves, we have the ability to, if you hover on it, it gives you the budget, what's been spent down, and then a brief description of those projects themselves.
    This was really intended for public consumption, so they could track where the funds were going. Starting next quarter, we will actually be launching a secondary portion of this, which will include those outputs that were related to those projects. So the specific metrics that were associated with what it was that they were doing. And then sort of as a longer term, bigger picture, related to the ARPA spending, is we've launched this recovery index map, which really looks at longer term outcomes that would be associated with those projects. And so this was trying to get up the intentionality that we thought of the federal funding was to really try and invest in sort of systemic long term change. And so, within these areas in Denver, it's down to census track layer data, but you have the ability to go through and see there's 18 different data sets underlying this that have been indexed together to create this layer. And it's broadly split up into economic, health and education, which aligns with, again, the major components that we're spending our ARPA funding in.
    And ideally over time we would expect to see, hopefully, better changes made in tracking these longer term outcomes. So go ahead and stop that. And I will hand it off to the next guest.

Andrea Lynn:
Nicolas, I think that's you

Nicolas Diaz:
All right. Yeah. So I'm going to go ahead and screen share our ARPA website and dashboard. And just two things that I wanted to highlight from the way that we've set up our visualization, is that we've really focused on trying to make the navigation and the visualization as intuitive as possible for the users, trying to combine giving enough information while also not making it too onerous for someone that may not be completely familiar with how all of this works. So we here can navigate at the top through the total number of projects that have been completed or that are in progress, or that are in planning phases. And if you go to the next step, you can see, of the $123 million, how much of that has been budgeted and how much of that has been spent, with the underlying assumption that the more projects we put together and the more money we're spending and budgeting, the quicker we're getting the recovery underway.
    You can also track this down even further by priority area, which we define in four big categories in the case of Syracuse, economy, families, government, and infrastructure. And you can get a little bit more detail there. And I also wanted to mention that this particular design, we went through a few iterations and we brought in our innovation designer to do some user testing, bringing in some potential users of this information, researchers or community advocates or just day to day citizens, to get feedback in real time and see how they interacted with it. I also wanted to highlight that you can go to one of the specific categories here, let's say, supporting children, families, and neighborhoods, and you'll get a much more granular view of how the projects are progressing. And you get here, get a list of all the projects.
    And the other point that I wanted to highlight, which is something that we've never done before, is that we are reporting the outputs in real time, or as close to real time as we can, on what outputs this projects are achieving. So for example, for homeowner support, we've identified a domain output for this project is that we want to assist 720 households. And so far, we have actually delivered that assistance to 126. So again, inserting more of a data driven approach to all of these projects, and also hoping that the public will keep us accountable in the things that we set out to achieve.

Zach Markovits:
Great. I think I am next, I've had trouble screen sharing a second ago, so I'm going to try again, and hopefully this will work. But Andrea just dropped it in the chat. Unfortunately, I don't think it is working for me right now.

Andrea Lynn:
Zach, do you want me to share it from my end-

Zach Markovits:
Yeah.

Andrea Lynn:
[inaudible 00:25:39] talk through it.

Zach Markovits:
That would be great. Yeah. I'll just talk through it on the top end. Thank you so much. So excited to talk with you about the Results of America and Mathematica dashboard, which thank you for pulling that up. This takes a look at the State and Local Fiscal Relief Fund specifically in ARP Recovery Plan Report. As you take a look at it. And looks at over 200 cities, counties, states, and then a couple tribal nations. And looked at the performance reports that were released in August, and will again be revised as the performance reports are coming up again in the next couple of months. And as I mentioned at the top of this, Results for America is all about making what works the new normal, and looking at how data and evidence can play a key role in the delivery of outcomes for residents in communities. And that this particular investment in state and local government is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape the way government is operating.
    And Treasury, as we look at the guidance documents, and then we'll get to the dashboard. But to set this up a little bit, the Treasury, when put forward some of the guidance documents around this work, included within those guidance documents, five key provisions, helping to articulate how these dollars can and should be spent to drive sort of the new way government can be operating. So it's use of evidence and data, prioritizing evidence based interventions, tracking outcomes through rigorous evaluations, engaging with the public and ensuring actively recovery for residents. And so what we'll see through this dashboard, that we put together with Mathematica, is not only this first page, which if you scroll down, you can see kind of the general level of investment and planned expenditure across cities, counties, states, and tribal nations.
    But if you scroll up above, again, you'll see in the second tab, a breakdown in investment areas, similar to, I think, what we've seen in a couple of other places here. So how are these various cities, counties, states and tribal nations investing in the US Treasury expense categories, and sort of critical notable investment categories around education or justice and public safety. But if you click on the next tab here, you'll see a breakdown on evidence and outcomes, as we articulated across those guidance. Sorry, I scrolled up a little, there you go. And if you look at this evidence and outcomes, you'll see how investment, from each of these city, state and counties, have been articulated around clear investments or investments that the dollars have been allocated, promising investments, maybe have overseen a hurdle, or there's no indication investments here.
    And if you scroll down below, you can see we've categorized various cities, county, states and tribal along sort of how they've done it. And this is all interactive through a Tableau portal, as an interesting way to sort of cut this data. Most important for cities, counties, states, which I think is really important. And this also, we did this before Treasury put all of the performance reports on their website, is this takes you directly to our performance reports. And I think that's really important. We built this around staff and jurisdictional leaders in mind, to make sure that, as we have an understanding, we want to make sure that we're solving something around housing, this directly relates the pandemic. How do I understand not only what Pierce is doing or Denver is doing, but for Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Cambridge, et cetera. And then how does that relate to what's happening in Syracuse. And get a really good understanding of what this comprehensive spending picture is looking across the country, so I can take an understanding of what works, and bring it to the next level.
    So I'll talk a little bit more about what we're learning from this in a second, hopefully. But this is hopefully a quick navigation through what's in it.

Maria Filippelli:
Awesome. [inaudible 00:29:28] leaves me. Sorry, I didn't mean to cut anybody off. This is Maria with SEAP. And so here is our ARP Local Fund Spending Tracker. We wanted our partner organizations, our community leaders and our state and local jurisdiction officials to be able to see information at a high level. So we're following a subset of southern cities and we have a few filters. Folks can look at state levels, city level, or a population increment because 250,000 is a big population line with the SLFRF funding.
    So right now, we're filtered for Georgia because that's where I'm currently located. And for Georgia, we have information on 46 cities. And one of the things that's really important for our conversations and to be able to have community engagement and provide input on the process, is to know where in the decision process governments are. So right now for the 46 cities in Georgia, 15 have not made any decisions on their funding. Eight have made decisions for all their funds and that's both halves 100% of their funding. But then most of the cities are still right in the middle. Some decisions have been made, but there's still plenty of time to provide input on the remaining decisions. And then very similarly to all the other dashboards, we have decisions by category. And these align mostly with the treasury reporting categories. We did add a few more categories as we went through the data, because they were just trending and popping as additional categories. So it's Treasury reporting categories, plus a few more, where we saw funds consistently being allocated.
    And then also, because there's such a focus on equity with ARPA, just a little bit of a binary of if we could find evidence of any equity in the investment spending or in the community outreach. So just kind of a few high level touch points to give an overview of where these cities are in the Southern States.

Lisa Reijula:
Perfect. Thank you everybody. And I know that we have questions from the audience, so we'll keep an eye on those and see if we answer a few of them as we go. And if not, we'll kind of break in and ask those. Maria talked a little bit about funding decisions, how folks are making those. And I'm wondering if we can ask Lisa and Nicolas this question, start with you two. Can you talk a little bit about your organization's approach to transparency, whether that's strategizing how to allocate funding or collecting data from multiple departments and then ultimately displaying that information? Where were you before the pandemic, and how did that experience kind of shape where you are now?

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
Sure. I'm happy to jump in here. We had a little bit of a lessons learned moment. My group was brought in after the spend down of the CRF funding. And we were asked, a little bit after the fact, to come in and build out a dashboard showing, pretty similar to what I showed you for ARPA, the outcomes and the outputs that were associated with that. And coming in after the fact, after programs had already started and were collecting information, et cetera, made it really difficult, actually. Particularly in trying to show an overall big picture.
    So this go round, actually probably about a year ago, when we first learned that ARPA funding was going to be released, we launched a logic model, right from the get go. And so again, before we even had final rule, before we knew what needed to be collected, et cetera, even our allocations, we started having big picture meetings with agency heads, division leaders, about what was our strategic overall goal for the use of this funding. And from there started to get really in alignment about what types of data we would be collecting. Even things as how those particular data pieces would be collected. So for instance, if you're going to be able to collect demographic information, this is how it should be asked, and these are the responses that should be collected. And the intention of this was so that when we're looking all together at our overall impact, we'd really be able to roll it up and see big picture fairly easily. So I think for us that was the biggest help that's made the rollout of this, thus far, go really quite smoothly for us.
    But yeah, just getting that larger buy-in right off the bat and being very strategic about our investments.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks Lisa. Nicolas, how about you?

Nicolas Diaz:
What else can I add? Lisa summarized it so well. I agree 100%. The dashboard is not something that you can come in after the fact. It's really the result of doing things right from the start, and putting in the right practices and the right muscles underneath. So 100% agree on just getting some strategic alignment first. And I can perhaps go under the hood and show you how that looked like in Syracuse, because... Let's see, what am I sharing right now? We had to ask, before we could even think about having a dashboard, just standardizing what information we were asking each project to provide. And this may seem like common sense, every project should have a description and an owner and a project justification, but it's something that sometimes we forget to do in local government, we just rush to spend our money.
    So asking each department or each project owner to have some milestones, identified outputs, identify your data collection plan, your outcomes, whether this is a project that promotes [inaudible 00:35:57] outcomes, whether it requires community engagement, use of evidence. And then we go into the budget overview. And they don't only need to fill this template, then we'd have a review meeting, to make sure that all the information made sense and that your data collection plan was sufficient. And then we had to establish the right accountability mechanisms so that we would be periodically reviewed with each department, are they doing what they say that they're doing? Are the subcontractors or are the subrecipients, rather, are they reporting on the metrics that they say that they're reporting? And actually, this is where this is such a partnership internally, it's not just my department or ARPA manager, it's the folks over at research, who are grant managers. They started building in this reporting requirements into every single contract with the subrecipient, which is so important to then hold them accountable when push comes to shove.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, Nicolas. And I wanted to say that for any of our panelists, I think some are able to stay 15 extra minutes to make up for our technical difficulties. So we'll look to stay on until 2:30, with those that are able to do that. And again, thank you so much for hanging with us. I wanted to turn it over to Zach and Maria right now, representing the non-government organizations, what motivated your organizations to produce these trackers, to take on this work? How did you approach it? What were the gaps that you were seeing or the resource needs?

Zach Markovits:
Thanks. So first I will actually want to say that we actually never intended to create a project product like this. When ARP was being rolled out, we heard from state and county and city colleagues a few key things. One, "We're exhausted, the pandemic, the last 18 plus months of responding to the pandemic at the time, it's burnt us down." And two, "We now are receiving an unprecedented amount of funding coming into our coffers, and we recognize this opportunity and the need to be strategic with these funds, but see, number one, were spent. And so, how can we both respond to the pandemic and be strategic on that?" So number three, "What are others doing in this space?"
    Especially, and the number people we spoke to, "How are they thinking about these one time funds as a way to both be strategic and be building out the capacity for their cities, their counties, their states, to be a better operating enterprise than they were before. And not just use like a peanut butter spread, where it goes everywhere, or thinking about sort of key pet projects that may or may not be successful in the long run." And so we had heard examples and anecdotes of how this was happening, but not really a good, comprehensive picture of what spending was looking like across the country.
    So we partnered with Mathematica to start to investigate what folks were doing out there, to inform how we, at Results for America can help to do this. Where were the gaps, where were the challenges. And as a database organization we wanted to eat our own dog food as it were. And so we got into the research quickly and realized that this was not just something that we could print out in a spreadsheet, which is kind of an original intention, but that given the time and attention and the pressures that were put onto our city, county, state colleagues, and this needs to get up there and be able to quickly shorten the distance between, I have this dollars I want to spend, and this intractable challenge that I want to address, and who else out there are trying really key and strategic things out there. And so, it was about really making sure that the data that were produced in mass were able to be very quickly applied, because we knew that these historic funds could have a monumental effect in the way we tackle challenges that our communities have faced for generations.
    But we also need to know what programs work. What we're trying? What we're piloting? And uniting evidence with the SLURF funds, and building long term capacity with the community. And how can that ultimately help to get there. And what's exciting, is that aligned with the five key provisions that were in the Treasury's guidance, that I articulated earlier, it was really aligned with what RFAs mission was, what Mathematica is trying to do. And us coming together was really important to make sure that we can get this into, and to colleagues like Nicolas and Andrea and Lisa, who are really doing the work on the ground and making sure their communities can be really laser focused on what can be most effective.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, Zach. Definitely hearing the theme of sharing of information, coming together to share what's been working. And I think especially the angle of pilot projects, when people are trying something new with the funding, sharing that information, it can be really helpful. And I think that's why we have so many folks on the call today. Maria, can I ask you same question, same themes over to you?

Maria Filippelli:
Yeah, absolutely. Sorry. I got a little weird unmute myself pop up. SEAP has a very similar story to what we just heard from Zach and Results for America. So SEAP is known as a knowledge hub and an organizational connector in the South. And almost immediately after ARPA was signed, we had partners reaching out to us. So wanting clarity on the process, wanting to know what other organizations were doing, and wanting to know what local governments were doing with their funds. And we heard largely from smaller jurisdictions. So those jurisdictions with populations between 20,000 and 250,000 people. That's kind of where our sweet spot is, and where we heard sort of the most call for need and information sharing. So most of these jurisdictions, super excited about receiving the funds, but really nervous a little bit about utilizing the funds, because they didn't have extra staff capacity to manage this big funding influx. And so in this context, when there's a lot of new information and there's limited resources, learning from each other really becomes incredibly important. And that was the motivation behind our work.
    It became apparent to see that a public facing resource or resources with consistent updates would be helpful to our partners and the local governments in the South. And so our approach was to invest in people. SEAP hired a few consultants to meet with our partners, to reach out to those groups that had questions, and to really understand their needs regarding the transparency in the funding and the funding process. And we knew that finding the data would be a big undertaking, because the information needed, the information that we wanted to pull and share with folks, city budgets, community meeting notes, documentations like that are not really standardized, and neither are website URLs. So to talk just a bit about the technical approach, each municipality, each jurisdiction, has their own combination of how they present information. And that prohibited us from having a truly purely technological solution like a web scraper or something like that.
    We also knew that many of the data reporting and transparencies at the federal level would come later in the timeline for smaller jurisdictions. I think the first round of reporting really for these smaller locations with these smaller award amounts, actually was just due at the end of April, so not even two months ago. So we wanted to make sure that community leaders knew the decision status and where spending plans are now and during this past year. So that way they could more easily participate in the decision making process.
    And so we have some really awesome consultants. They helped us set up a system to manually track, collate and present all of these funding allocations. And so the spending tracker dashboard is designed to be updated as we go through these next few years with this pandemic relief funding. And then that way our partners are aware of funding status at almost any time. They can look at the dashboard and see that. Because we know that the timing of that information is really super important for people to know, for community leaders, community advocates to know if they want to influence the process of how the funds are going to be distributed.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. Thanks, Maria. So I think you touched on some of the issues. My next question, which is, a lot of the labor and work that can be involved in collecting this information. And a lot of you talked about having transparency web that's already in place before the pandemic. So I'm curious how the influx of this new federal funding, the pandemic response, affected your existing work. Did it require organizational shifts, additional staffing, additional resources, or was it sort of business as usual? So I'll turn this over to Julie and Nicolas, starting with Julie.

Julie Demuth:
Sure. So as I mentioned, we implemented our transparency website back in 2018. And so having that website in place was very fortuitous for us. We were able to react very quickly. We stood up our first transparency dashboard for CARES Act within a week after receiving our CARES Act funding. But even having that transparency platform in place, it was still a huge organizational shift for us in 2020. We really focused and reallocated all of our resources and efforts on allocating and expending the CARES Act funds. At the time we had very limited resources dedicated specifically to our transparency efforts. I had one position at the time dedicated to open data and performance management work. And then it was essentially other duties as assigned, for several of us. So that year was exceedingly stressful. It was a year of working really long hours. Fortunately for us, the pandemic hit in the off year of our biennial budget process, so we were able to redirect resources and shift priorities.
    But in 2020, I guess, CARES Act and the ARPA funds are very different, two different buckets for us. With the CARES Act funds, we were required to report to our county council on a weekly basis, which was a lot of work. We used our transparency site to build out this weekly report that we provided to council. We had to update that data every week. But it was helpful having it in place because it allowed all the information that we were reporting to council to also be available in real time to all of our constituents. We closely tracked expenditure and performance data. We had to identify performance measures, put structure in place to collect all of that data from all of our internal departments, as well as external providers, on a weekly basis, which is a big lift. It's a lot of time.
    But our county used that information to identify where process changes were needed. It helped us to get the funding out into the community very quickly. We understood where we needed to pivot and reallocate funding if there was an emerging need. So really helped us just react very quickly in 2020. So with the CARES Act funding it's of course longer term, so we're able to be a little bit more intentional, very strategic, looking for long term impact and outcomes, rather than that emergency state that we were in with the CARES Act funds. So fortunately, I think, 2020 was very difficult, but fast forward two years, our county has really invested in open data and transparency as well as data analytics. So I'm fortunate enough, I now have a team of eight research and data analysts and then a team of six budget and performance analysts. So our county has really focused and shifted to looking at data driven decisions. So for us, the pandemic really helped institute that culture here.

Andrea Lynn:
Great, thanks. And I'll turn to you, Nicolas.

Nicolas Diaz:
Yeah, thanks. We had our existing open data portal where we published a lot of existing data sets, but frankly, we didn't have much experience doing budgetary or grant related reporting in the same way as ARPA required us to do. We did have experience doing data analysis and visualizations and different performance management tools, so we leveraged some of that in putting together our dashboard. And we also hired a new dedicated position on ARPA data analyst to not only build the Visualizations, but also handle the day-to-day reporting requirements. But I also mentioned that as I was saying, this did take a big change management, organizational change management perspective as well. So I think it was really important to work together not only within my department, but also working with the finance folks who would be keeping track of a lot of the financial spend, the budget team, the neighborhood and business development, as one of the main users of the funding, our research team. And we also appointed a new director of strategic initiatives who would be our tsar, if we want to call it that.
    So I think, again, that multidepartmental collaboration in thinking about this big reporting and accountability framework internally, was very important in getting this off the ground.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, Nicolas. So many of you have talked about the CARES Act experience, lessons learned from CARES Act, but then came State Local Fiscal Recovery Funds SLFRF, SLURF, we'll settle that in a few minutes, in the American Rescue Plan. So given the size and the flexibility and the reporting requirements of the SLFRF Program, were there specific challenges that you faced in reporting on those funds? And Lisa, can I start with you? How was your experience with that program in Colorado?

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
Sure. So one of the things about Denver's [inaudible 00:51:09] city and county, so we actually got both allocations. And so for us, the spending really is a very large dollar amount, as well as it was involvement from nearly every agency within the city. And so one of the issues that we encountered with it was that it sort of ran the gauntlet from familiarity with reporting, and data and performance reporting. So we would have some agencies that were very familiar with it, they worked in the workforce space and they're well versed in federal reporting requirements, to some agencies that worked with really quite niche nonprofits that had nearly zero familiarity and weren't well versed, weren't comfortable with it. And so it was really sort of helping to bridge the gap between those two spaces.
    And one of the things we did was, from the get go, we involved not only with the programmatic leads and sort of agency heads or directors, but we also made sure to, right off the bat, loop in the data analyst leads from those various departments. So that right off the bat, they were involved, they knew what was going on. They knew what wouldn't be feasible in terms of data collection. And for those really smaller nonprofits, Denver ended up rolling out a data reporting collection hub so that people that weren't familiar with this, they have the ability, they can just log onto a portal online and sort of report out the metrics that way, and ask them very straightforward standardized questions. Again, ensuring all of these data is collected in a standardized format. But I think that for us was really the biggest issue, is trying to just coordinate across this very broad spectrum of groups.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, Lisa. And then Maria, how about you, especially taking a regional view across states?

Maria Filippelli:
Sure. So we can categorize our challenges in a few different buckets. And so one is technical challenges, because the data and the information is in all sorts of formats and ways across different sites. It's a pretty labor intensive process to collect and manage all of the information needed. And that's a bit of an ongoing challenge, but it's understood. That's just sort of something that we know that we have to deal with as we go along with this reporting and transparency. Another is timeline challenges. So the multiyear timeline to allocate ARPA and SLFRF fundings is amazing. That's great. I had lots of time for community engagement and really think about things strategically. But within that multiyear timeline, every city that we're looking at has their own timeline, their own budgeting process, their own thoughts about when they will allocate the funds.
    So we're on this, basically, constant loop of looking at city sites. So we have our list of cities that we're following. There's about 200. And so takes about a month. And so basically every month we start at the top, we look through all the sites, we indicate if we know when a change will be made, if not, we're kind of searching for that change. And then once we get to the end of the list, we're right back at the beginning. And so just continuing to cycle, because those timelines just sort of run the gamut within the larger ARPA timeline. Also the information each government shares can be different. All the governments represented on this panel have amazing amounts of detail, amazing amounts of information. That's not always the case. And so sometimes there are these fully documented lists and itemized lists of where every dollar is going, but sometimes cities just kind of have some high level buckets of funding or allocations identified. So we just have to kind of figure out the best way to show all of that information.
    And we've also come across a new challenge. We've only seen a few instances of this. It's only come up very recently. But as we move along the process and progress timeline, from allocating funds to implementation, we've heard from a few places that sometimes funds are reallocated. And so the budget's produced, it looks like everything's good to go, the allocation buckets are set, it's clear where funding will be. And then, somewhere between that and implementation, funds are getting reallocated. And so that's happening a little bit behind the scenes. And like I said, it's been flagged for us only a couple times and just recently, so it's been difficult to figure out how to find that information and understand when and why these changes are happening.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, Maria. That's a really important point and one that, Zach, if I can turn to you next, are there similar or other themes, common insights that you've seen kind of taking a look across localities or a national look?

Zach Markovits:
Yeah. A lot of really exciting themes and trends that we have seen through this data. So one, I'll just say, as for larger trends on issues, you can go to the dashboard and sort and code to spot some direct trends around justice and crime or health or et cetera. But one thing that we're able to do is take a step back and look at the data overall. And so a couple things I hope to maybe bring to you all, within a caveat I'll put on this, if this is all data from August of 2021, we'll be refreshing this in the next couple months, as the new performance reports come in. But it's important and interesting to look at this as is right now. So a few things, one is around government modernization, you see jurisdictions across the country are using these funds to grow their fundamental capacity to use data and evidence in the data delivery of services.
    So you'll see Detroit, for example, is spending some of their dollars to build a citywide data warehouse that will help to maintain their data and importantly integrate systems across the city, focused on pandemic response, because they'll have that immediate impact to measure and track outcomes there, but we'll have this kind of long term implications for governing, because so many departments at that point will be able to get information faster, do analysis, budget resources, and redirect funds to more effective programs. Also around this space, we're seeing that governments that had previous before or had built data evidence capacity for decision making, as measured through our local city certification or state standard of excellence, had seemed to be creating stronger and higher potential ARP spending plans. And so what this means is that we're seeing evidence that investment in building the capacity of local jurisdictions to use data effectively, is actually an important prerequisite for this kinds of opportunity. So it's never too late. We can use these funds in this direction. But it's an exciting and important trend, I would just want to say.
    So two, has to do with kind of government innovation. You have about 40% of jurisdictions that are piloting new programs, and the flexibility of the state and local fiscally funds is leading to a dramatic increase, I think, in innovations and new programming really with important critical components on this. And I can go through a number of different examples of how that is. The challenge, I'll note that this goes alongside the piloting, is that fewer than half, 44% are actually planning on investing in evaluation. So I think as we look at the future of what works, pairing this exciting proliferation of new pilot programs with a little bit of a dearth in evaluation, we want to make sure that we're evaluating how these programs are working so that when these dollars go away, we have a really good and exciting new catalog of what has been seen to work through these new federal dollars, so that we can spend general operating support on what has been shown to work more effectively.
    And I'll note that what's important on this piloting is that we expect there's actually more conversations, more pilots that are happening out there, but given where the reporting was required in August, that you should consider these numbers as a floor and not a ceiling. We have a number of jurisdictions that publicly announced all the exciting things they were going to do, but when they report it to Treasury, there was a relatively blank piece of paper or something that was really nominal because of so many conditions there. So treat that the data that's in there as sort of a floor. Two other quick trends, and then I'll turn the mic over, back. One, is we see communities are really pairing data with community input to drive equitable investment. So you see almost 3/4 of jurisdictions are engaging with residents on how to spend their recovery funds and about the same amount of focus on equity.
    King County, right next to Julie there, is using an equity impact review tool in Washington, and strategic plan and equity dashboard to ensure its investments are leading to [inaudible 01:00:27] residents. And you see a number of communities that are trying to innovate around how they bring community members into a conversation to advance equity. And then last, and something I'm really seeing that's exciting, and I mentioned this before, jurisdictions are learning from each other. And it was a purpose of this tool, and we're seeing this, I see Maria nodding as well, I think this is exciting to see. You see Durham, North Carolina is adopting an equity scoring matrix for there that was created in Pueblo, Colorado. You have Springfield that was inspired by Toledo's ARP spending rollout. And it's replicating the parts that make sense for their community, but borrowing from other jurisdictions that are doing really exciting, innovative work.
    And now I'll note again that we're going to be updating this in the next few months, so keep an eye on that. I think we'll see so much more of what the borrowing and sharing and replicating can look like. And that's something I think we'll continue to track, report out on, and help jurisdictions with, over the next number of years as these dollars are being spent.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. Thanks, Zach. It's really exciting to hear you touch on governments working together, learning from each other because that was the motivation for this event. Especially, selfishly for us, is just we want to learn from all of you and see what amazing things you're doing. And we hope that we can continue to do events like this in the future, because it's rare and there are certain areas where governments get together but it's not always at different levels and other organizations, that we're really [inaudible 01:01:52]. And I think you touched on this a bit, but a lot of people brought up different challenges with SLFRF reporting and changing requirements and things like that. So given what we know now, I'm curious, what recommendations would you all give to federal government if we had to roll out a program like this again or something similar? Yeah. Give given what you know now. I'll start with you, Maria.

Maria Filippelli:
Awesome. Well, my first recommendation would be to stay with what's working. So the equity and engagement, the equity and implementation, as a focus for the state and local funds, is fantastic. And having federal programs continue to focus on this equity and this reconciling of longstanding systemic issues is really key to maximizing the impact of federal programs. My second recommendation is around process, and stressing the importance of process transparency. Even though many of the resources that we've looked at at SEAP kind of show where funds are going, most don't show how the decisions are being made about the funds or how to track implementation. So sort of next phase, after just the fiscal transparency, is to think about the process and what's important to share about the process for allocating and spending the funds. And my last recommendation is to think about ways to provide resources to expand capacity.
    So SEAP, again, we work with really small jurisdictions that have maybe only a few people on staff, really just kind of looking to leverage other resources that are out there. So a program like the State and Local Funding, it's great to reduce the barriers in receiving the funds, but then for these local governments that are stretched, then it can be difficult for them to be nimble with such a big change. So providing resources, even if it's something like a reporting template, or maybe there's a list of pre-approved organizations that can help pitch in and provide that additional capacity, would be my last recommendation when you think about future federal programs.

Julie Demuth:
The biggest challenge for us has been in the administration of the funding and managing expectations. The expectations of our communities, our providers, our subrecipients, our elected leaders. With the CARES Act funds, we were operating under emergency orders that really helped us to get to the funding out the door much quicker. With the American Rescue Plan funds, expenditures are subject to the provisions of the uniform guidance. And so administration is just much more complex and it takes a lot longer to administer.
    As far as recommendations go, broadly, I think if the federal government could continue to identify ways to lessen the administration burden on recipients and subrecipients, while of course still being able to ensure eligibility and proper use of funds. I know that's a big ask, I'm not sure how one can do that. But some significant changes were made from the first issuance of the interim final rule to issuance of the final rule, that really impacted our administrative workload around the changes in expenditure categories, or we had to go in and restructure our financial data to align with all of the new expenditure categories. So fewer categories of expenditures with broader uses could be helpful in helping to navigate the complexity.
    And then finally, just from a technology perspective, I think there could certainly be some improvements. The portal is not particularly user friendly. The quarterly expenditure reports and annual performance reports that we have to do are a substantial effort and they require manual data entry into the portal. So if there are ways to improve the technology platform, I think that could certainly help streamline process and reduce some of the resources needed at the local level.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. Thank you. And before we move on to next question, I just want to see if anyone else on the panel had, I'm sure you all have a bunch of recommendations, so if there anything that you really want to get off your chest, feel free to chime in.
    So moving on to, I think, our last question, just in the interest of time. So we've gotten quite a bit in the weeds today about what goes into ingesting and displaying funding data. But we all know that data is used to tell a broader story, which you all do in various ways on your sites. And so, this is sort of a quick fire question for everyone. What themes or insights have you all seen in your transparency work? And this could be across just the federal spending or federal funding or in just being transparent at the local government level.

Maria Filippelli:
I can start. So just quickly, the biggest theme is that transparency is good. It helps governments and community leaders and organizations really learn from each other and about each other. And it increases the accountability around the ARPA funds. And so having more transparency, encouraging more transparency, about things like process, show how government leaders are committed to equitable investments and overcoming these systemic challenges in their community.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. And can I pop over to Nicolas for one second, I know you have to drop, unless you don't have time.

Nicolas Diaz:
Yeah. Unfortunately I do have to drop off for a 2:30 hard stop, but appreciate the time being here. One insight, I guess, super basic, doing this right takes time. That will be my recommendation. And it takes a lot of conversations and it takes a lot of getting together and getting some definitions of what we're going to refer to certain things, like what even is a budgeted project versus an encumber project. Even though it sounds basic, thinking about how you're defining anything, your framework that governs everything. It really pays off to have that defined early on, and creating a single source of knowledge, as opposed to being six months later down the line and you have six different trackers, all of which show a different number of total projects, and then trying to reconcile that later on.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. Thanks, Nicolas. And thanks for joining us today.

Nicolas Diaz:
All right. Thanks for the invitation.

Andrea Lynn:
Anyone else on the panel want to hop in with themes or insights?

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
[inaudible 01:09:29].

Julie Demuth:
Go ahead.

Lisa Martinez-Templeton:
Sorry. So I was going to say, for Denver, I think one of the best uses of this, and again, the data is refreshed quickly, basically about as quickly as we get it. And so it's just being willing to utilize this data. So being willing to pivot and to learn from things. And if something's not working, to change, maybe go a different direction. So I think that's really one of the key takeaways for us with this whole exercise.

Andrea Lynn:
Awesome. Thanks. And Julie?

Julie Demuth:
I'll just quickly add that I think how we communicate data is essential. I think communication is probably even more important than the data itself. You can put a ton of data out there and make it available to the public, but if it's not consumable or understandable, it really defeats the purpose. So I would just recommend investing as much on the communication, the design, how the data looks, invest in that, as well as, collecting the data and analyzing the data.

Andrea Lynn:
Great. And last but not least, Zach.

Zach Markovits:
Yeah. I've talked a lot about trends that we've seen. But just to build off what Julia just said, I think, thinking about the why before you enter into a project like this, who are your users, and then what's the purpose of putting the data out there. Spending that time, as other folks have said, to think through the beginning to the end of a project like this. And then really articulating your goals before you actually start the process of collecting the data or putting together or pushing it out there. I think that will ultimately make it really nuanced. It may actually make you report less out or fewer things down, but that what you actually do report will actually meet the need that you're trying to set out with here.

Lisa Reijula:
Thanks, everyone. Thank you all so much for your expertise, your time, for sharing your experience. I found this to be so interesting. We've already held people over, even though I wish we had scheduled this to go even later, because we have so many more questions, but we will look to convene another event like this, given the interest that we saw and people hanging with us through technical difficulties, we'll follow up from this webinar. I know we weren't able to get to many of the questions, so we will do that offline and work with our panelists to do so, as well as make sure that we send links and resources from each of their organizations and offices. So thank you to Maria, to Zach, to Julie, to Lisa, to Nicolas. Really appreciate all of the work that you're doing and for coming together to share what you've seen in your locality or across the country. Because as you've all highlighted, sharing those resources and information has been really important and key to helping us recover and cope through the pandemic.
    So thank you all so much for attending. And from the PRAC, thank you very much for participating. And we'll hope to see you all soon.
    Thank you.

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