CEO Report at CNCS Public Board Meeting

Mar 25, 2019


CEO Report By Barbara Stewart
CNCS Public Board Meeting
Monday, March 25, 2019 12:30-1:30 pm

As Written for Delivery


Good afternoon, and thanks to all who have joined us today.

Thank you Shamina and Mona for your guidance and insights. CNCS is very fortunate to have such experienced and knowledgeable leaders serving on our Board, and we greatly appreciate your service.

This is an exciting time at the Corporation for National and Community Service, and I have to say my first year as the CEO of this agency has flown by.

During the last 12 months, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers, as well as state commissioners, grantees, project sponsors, partners, and others who believe in the work we do at CNCS.

I’ve seen the great work our programs do, especially in critical areas of need like tackling the opioid crisis, helping veterans stay in their homes, tutoring and mentoring youth, preventing elder fraud and abuse, and improving workforce preparedness. 

Sometimes, I joined in – I’ve swung a hammer with Habitat for Humanity, donned a hair net to serve meals at a homeless shelter, and even got a dose of poison ivy clearing invasive species at a local park. It’s a privilege to be a part of the rewarding work we do.

I’ve also had the honor of witnessing firsthand the assistance our disaster services team and programs provide. Last December, I visited areas in the Florida panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael where volunteers were helping victims recover and rebuild.  Our corps members are still on the ground in Texas supporting Hurricane Harvey recovery and in Puerto Rico helping those affected by the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. And teams are responding right now to help those in the path of flooding across the Midwest.

Over the past 25 years, national service has produced extraordinary results - helping countless Americans succeed in school, find productive work, escape poverty, and achieve their potential in life.  

Millions of Americans have experienced the transforming impact of national service, changing their lives in powerful ways and helping them accomplish things they had never thought possible.

We’ve seen national service embraced by America’s nonprofit and voluntary sector; and that our core principles of local control, public-private partnership, and citizen problem-solving were right on track.

But as great as our programs and initiatives are, national service continues to be challenged.

I quickly learned a lot about the challenges we faced when I testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee last April, two months after I joined CNCS.  When people talk about a baptism by fire, I would suggest that event fit the description.

The things I heard affected me deeply and helped me understand that national service is a national treasure, and my top priority as CEO is to make it stronger and more sustainable for the future.

This is why we took the initiative to face these challenges head-on by introducing the Transformation and Sustainability Plan in June 2018. We developed this plan after months of intensive review of CNCS programs and operations, informed by a wide range of ideas and evaluations from staff, grantees, members and volunteers, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, and the Office of the Inspector General.

The feedback we received from Congress in the oversight hearing, and through other meetings, factored into our plan. However, most of the goals were originally envisioned in prior administrations. 

After announcing the plan, we spent several months listening to staff, grantees, project sponsors, and other stakeholders across the country. More than 500 people attended our seven in-person and teleconference listening sessions last summer, and we received written comments from more than 260 individuals and organizations. Since last fall, we have met with nearly 100 members of Congress or their staff about the plan. This input process continues to this day and is a valuable resource as we implement the plan.

The Transformation and Sustainability Plan is a comprehensive roadmap to improve how we serve our customers, meet community needs, and position national service for greater impact and growth. Specifically, the plan outlines major steps the agency will take to:

  • Ensure our core business functions are accountable and effective.
  • Make it easier for organizations and individuals to participate in our programs.
  • Strengthen our impact in communities by prioritizing evidence-based models.
  • Align our workforce and workplaces to better serve our customers, meet evolving needs, and ensure efficient use of public funds.

It is important to note that none of the changes in the plan take away from the programs, funds, or national service participants going to states and communities.  The ultimate way we will measure success is by creating a stable platform for growth of CNCS programs and initiatives.

I am pleased to report that we are making good progress on implementation. I want to share some of our early successes:

Our first goal is fixing core business functions to increase capacity and better support our grantees.

We have made substantial progress to strengthen accounting systems and address the weaknesses identified in the FY 2018 financial statement audit. Thanks to strong leadership in our CFO and accounting offices, we have already addressed many of the audit’s recommendations, and we will continue to make this a top priority.

Four months ago, we made an important step by launching a new vendor to support grantee compliance with National Service Criminal History Checks. Over time, we expect this vendor will not only improve compliance but reduce burdens on grantees and increase efficiencies in monitoring.

Other steps to simplify processes and reduce burdens are taking place across CNCS:

  • In January, Senior Corps implemented a long-awaited rule that significantly reduces administrative burdens and duplicative work for grantees.
  • AmeriCorps State and National has taken numerous steps to increase flexibility, including eliminating the 20-member minimum, streamlining the grant application and performance measures, and making changes to support fixed-price grants, among other improvements.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA’s new quarterly deadlines for Concept Papers provide more opportunity and timing certainty for organizations to apply for VISTA members.

By increasing flexibility and reducing administrative burdens, grantees and sponsors can better focus on meeting needs in communities.

We’ve also initiated working groups on our grants management business process and training and development environment.

The most visible portion of the Transformation Plan is underway at our state offices as we begin the transition to a regional office structure. During the next five weeks, the first group of colleagues in state offices will begin transitioning to home duty stations and a full-time telework environment.

The move to temporary full-time telework provides savings enabling us to keep our Program and Grant Officer positions longer and support a smooth transition to the regional offices.  Overall, the move to regional offices does several important things. It will: 

  • Create a simplified point of contact to help organizations navigate the full menu of national service programs and to administer grants;
  • Provide more consistent and higher levels of service and ensure national service investments go to where they are needed;
  • And enable our agency to keep more resources in the field supporting our grantees, sponsors, and local communities.

We are recruiting and hiring for positions at headquarters and in the field to support our new structure and roles. During the next three weeks, CNCS will begin the internal hiring process for many of the new positions for the new regional offices and here in D.C.  There will be more than 150 full-time openings to fill, and 97 percent of these jobs will initially be open to internal CNCS candidates only.

I have said this before many times and will say it again here:  We want to keep the talent we have.  We highly value the experience and expertise of our CNCS staff.  We hope as many as possible will make this journey.

We also are filling out some of our key leadership roles.  After a very competitive process, we have selected one of our experienced and capable colleagues, Erin McGrath, to serve as our new Director of Regional Operations.  Erin has an incredible working knowledge of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps and her connections to national service date back 20 years to when she was an AmeriCorps member.

We have also selected our new leader for the Office of Monitoring, Linda Southcott. Linda is currently the Deputy Director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which aims to reduce Veteran homelessness. Linda has significant experience in grants management and strategic planning, and she will be a terrific addition to our team.

Lastly, we have decided to reconstitute the department of the Chief Operating Officer to further strengthen our core business functions and improve our accountability and effectiveness. Dana Bourne will serve as Acting Chief Operating Officer effective April 1. I want to thank Dana for taking on this important role in leading our operational team.

I’d like to conclude my report with several updates from our programs.

  • AmeriCorps State & National will complete its application review process this month, and we will begin notification to organizations about the $250 million in new and re-compete grants awards on April 1.
  • Last week 200 AmeriCorps VISTA members completed the first revamped in-service training in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I am hearing great things about the new format being used by the training team.
  • In two weeks, 42 of our Pacific Region AmeriCorps NCCC-FEMA Corps members will graduate, and more than half of the corps has reported that they’ve already received job offers. This is a tremendous testimony to how our programs are providing pathways to employment – a topic you will hear more about in the panel.
  • In Senior Corps news, we recently awarded more than $13.6 million dollars in funding to 170 organizations to support more than 50,000 RSVP volunteers! 
  • In February, we released a new report that found our Senior Corps volunteers report being healthier and happier due to reduced isolation and increased activity after just one year of service. The study also found the service provided by Senior Companion volunteers had substantial physical and mental health benefits for the adults they serve and their caregivers.
  • Finally, I want to take a moment to recognize Deborah Cox-Roush and Senior Corps on their work with the Department of Justice in the Elder Justice Initiative to prevent senior fraud and abuse.

The 25th anniversary of CNCS and AmeriCorps are major milestones that deserve introspection -- a point in time to look back at our history and look forward to our future.

After the National and Community Service Trust Act was signed in 1993, CNCS was formed from programs both established and new – to make a positive impact on communities.

While our programs and initiatives each have unique histories and identities, it is the strength of our collective effort that makes national service so powerful. 

The months ahead will witness changes to our structure, but our mission to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering will remain the same.

Our goal is to create a stronger future for national service, one that can demonstrate the value and vitality of national service programs that are proudly serving in 50,000 communities across America.

Thank you.

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