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The ANA Messenger: Social Development Edition 2013

Published: September 26, 2013
Audience:
Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS)
Types:
Newsletter

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Talking Stick: Hold Your Heads Up!

by Kenneth Akwuole

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If you ask the majority of Americans what they did on the 4th of July, you will likely get responses ranging from watching an Independence Day parade or fireworks, to having family and friends over for a barbeque cookout.  The least likely answer would be “working” except for people in emergency services or hospitality industries.  But if you work for the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), you would more than likely find yourself with the later group.  That is because ANA’s Objective Panel Grant Review for Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS) for the next fiscal year’s awards began in earnest on July 3rd with a five-day completion deadline.

ANA supports economic and social development projects in Native American communities with discretionary grants to Tribal governments and native nonprofit organizations.  Specifically, ANA grants are used to support Tribal economic development, language and cultural preservation, environmental enhancement projects, improvement of governance structures  and other types of projects that enable native communities make positive changes in the public standard of living. ANA grants are therefore, a significant source of Federal support for improving economic and social conditions in Native American communities. 

Objective Panel Review (OPR) is an integral part of ANA’s funding process and affords participants the opportunity to ensure those in the field provide their insight and experience into the funding decision.  Each year, ANA convenes panels of experts to objectively analyze and score eligible grant applications. These scores are used to rank applications which help ANA decide which eligible Tribes or native organizations will receive an award.  In addition to the external reviewers, ANA staff serve as Sub-Area Managers (SAMs) and Priority-Area Managers (PAMs) during the panel review and grant award processes.  Generally, SAMs and PAMs provide assistance to reviewers, facilitators and the Review Director throughout the different phases of a grant review. 

Under normal circumstances, these groups of experts would assemble in one location, usually a hotel facility close to Washington, DC for the period of the review. However, this year’s review required a different approach. The recent budget across the board cuts enacted by Congress means government agencies must dig deep into many areas of their budgets to find savings. 
 
Thus, instead of bringing every reviewer to one location with all the travel and accommodation costs associated with such arrangement, ANA launched a full-scale electronic review process; whereby reviewers across different regions and time zones reviewed and scored the applications independently; and met through a teleconference to discuss their scores and written comments. By adopting this measure, along with some other cuts, ANA is able to continue its level of funding for projects in Native American communities.

People familiar with ANA’s grant review process know the ability to review applications, determine an appropriate score, and write clear and concise comments, requires specific knowledge and skills. The online review process this time made the system even more challenging because it is a new frontier.  The tight schedule for the reviewers also meant that whether an individual served as a reviewer, facilitator, SAM, PAM or Review Director during the last SEDs paneling session, chances are that person was either providing last minute instructions to the panelists, arranging the first panel meeting or reading the first application while the neighbors watched the Independent Day parades or fireworks on the 4th of July.
   
The majority of these individuals performed exceptionally well under pressure and helped ANA complete the most important step in deciding which eligible Tribes or Native organizations will receive a grant award.   Admittedly, these participants may have sacrificed their 4th of July celebratory activities but they helped ANA undertake these important cost saving measures. More importantly, they helped one or more Tribal communities in their pursuit for social and economic development.  For these reasons, every participant in this vital process deserves our collective “Thanks” and the honor to hold his/her head up.

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