On August 9, 2023, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) established the Council on Federal Financial Assistance (COFFA) as part of the Biden-Harris President’s Management Agenda (PMA). This Council serves as an interagency forum to improve coordination, transparency, and accountability for the award and management of Federal financial assistance. On October 26, they held their first meeting, bringing together leaders from across the Federal Government.
What is Financial Assistance?
The Federal Government provides more than $1 trillion in financial assistance every year—and sometimes much more in times of crisis. This creates a crucial, collective opportunity to improve management of the Government’s financial resources in a manner consistent with the PMA’s values of equity, dignity, accountability, and results. This financial assistance can take many forms, with the most common being grants and loans. The Government uses financial assistance to support a wide range of policies and goals, ranging from housing block grants, to infrastructure, to child and elder care services. Right now, each program has its own paperwork and approval processes, creating a burdensome and challenging environment to navigate.
To simplify Federal financial assistance, the COFFA aims to identify opportunities to streamline and standardize Government-wide grant-related activities, foster partnerships across Federal grant-making agencies, and provide strategic direction, policy recommendations, and priority-setting for other Government-wide grant-related activities. Finally, the COFFA is a major milestone of Priority 3, Managing the Business of Government of the PMA, with the impacts of this new council expanding across the Federal enterprise.
The COFFA is comprised of Senior Financial Assistance Officers (SFAO) from twenty-four Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies, along with two representatives from the Small Agency Council. SFAOs are responsible for agency implementation of Federal financial assistance policy, management, and strategic planning, designated by each COFFA agency’s Deputy Secretary (or equivalent) to serve as an agency representative to the Council. In addition, the COFFA is chaired by the OMB Deputy Director for Management and an agency SFAO, who will serve as co-chair for a two-year rotation. The Department of Health and Human Services will be the inaugural co-chair.
The COFFA’s First Meeting
On October 26, the COFFA held its inaugural meeting. During this first meeting, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Chair and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Co-Chair led council members through a series of discussions to begin developing priorities for the COFFA to accomplish within the first year. One of the projects already underway is the identification of the core competencies necessary for the financial assistance workforce. This effort will help identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for this workforce across each Federal financial assistance agency.
The COFFA’s Real-World Impact
Now that we have an understanding of how the COFFA operates, let’s explore how it will benefit the American people. One way is through cross-government coordination to simplify access to Federal financial assistance, which impacts grantees and recipients across the country. For example, through research from the “Recovering from a Disaster” CX Life Experience project, Cristina, a hurricane survivor, described her traumatic experience of not only losing her family home but the overall process of navigating the Federal financial assistance application and the additional stress that the process brought to her and her family.
Cristina said, “I just sort of remember sitting down and filling out a bunch of forms. [It was] confusing because we weren’t sure what the point of it was, we didn’t know what we were getting, but they told us to sign up for this stuff, so we did.”
The COFFA will work to simplify, streamline, and reduce the amount of paperwork required by Americans like Cristina. This is not only important in the short term for those requiring aid, but also by improving service delivery, the Council will help to improve Americans’ trust in their government. These structural policy changes led by the COFFA can create lasting impact on administrative burden for government agencies and for the American people.
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