Friday, August 20, 2010

Response to Paul Light re SIF "Stonewalling"

Let me see if I have this right. SIF is "becoming one of the most important efforts to stimulate social change in recent history," its selection process was conducted in record time and resulted in choosing 11 of "the very best organizations in the country," with "no pressure" to favor any applicants, using "perfectly appropriate" criteria. As a fellow SIF reviewer, I agree.

But, yet, you making sweeping assertions that SIF is "becoming a study in what doesn't work in government transparency," based on "rumors," "controversy" and "surmise," a fancy word for guess. Your sole basis is that you claim to know of "at least one" "weak and nonresponsive" applicant that received a grant, although you state that you "have no idea how this applicant reached the winner's circle."

Maybe you're right about that applicant, but you're inflammatory rhetoric and eager leaps to speculative conclusions can only force everyone involved to run for cover because "questions have been raised." You mention "the applicant's impressive lobbying effort on behalf of SIF" to imply that the applicant might have done something nefarious, offering wild conjectures about "revised" applications and unexplained "clarifying discussions." Soon, no doubt, we'll be hearing sage pontifications along the lines of "doesn't the White House know the cover-up is always worse than the crime."

This is sad and unfortunate. Even with its tiny size, SIF represents and important and courageous experiment by a forward-thinking administration to promote social progress by combining what the government does well (funding programs at scale) with what the social sector does well (fostering innovative solutions to difficult and incapacitating problems). It has attracted private funding from some our best foundations that exceeds the taxpayer money committed.

You have raised questions about just 1 of 69 applications, which can be investigated by the responsible oversight agency, the Office of Grants Policy and Operations. There is no basis to cast SIF's response as "weak and non-responsive," yet you seem willing to throw SIF to the wolves and let a promising cross-sector innovation become engulfed in a feeding frenzy of speculation and second-guessing. Are you really prepared to deny the beneficiaries of the final grantees the unprecedented financial and management leverage that SIF is on the verge of producing?

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