RICH JAMES: Pence's isolationism harmful to grant process

2013-08-04T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Pence's isolationism harmful to grant processBy Rich James nwitimes.com
August 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has such a disdain for the federal government that you’ve got to wonder why he spent 12 years in Congress.

His obsession now borders on the pursuit of isolationism.

And he is on the verge of jeopardizing many millions of dollars that flow into the state from the nation’s capital.

For starters, Pence has removed any federal reference from the state agency that seeks and implements the receipt of federal grants.

Pence signed an executive order last week renaming the state’s Office of Federal Grants and Procurement as the Office of State-Based Initiatives. Just like that, with the stroke of a pen, the feds are out and the state is in. But it’s still a duck.

Pence told this newspaper that he is holding the agency responsible for tracking the public and private implementation costs of federal grants and regulations.

With a new name and direction, Pence said Indiana will be able “to untangle itself from burdensome federal policies, seek to increase state innovation and ultimately strive to persuade the federal government to return to the principles of federalism.”

This is kind of like David and Goliath, only this time David doesn’t have a prayer.

Pence isn’t going to change the federal grant process that includes application, implementation and reporting. It can be a cumbersome process, but that may be necessary to ensure the accountability of billions of dollars.

There is so much benefit from federal grants that it makes the cost of implementation on the state or local level well worth it.

The most frustrating part about federal grants is acquisition, not red tape or local cost.

If I were a local governmental entity dependent on federal grants, I’d start getting a little nervous about what Pence is doing on the state level.

Based on his outlandish challenge to his newly named agency, I’ve got to wonder what Pence was doing during his years in Congress. Surely, he learned that the feds put strings on everything for a reason.

Pence has told the office to do a cost-benefit study for every grant opportunity, seek block grants with fewer spending restrictions, survey Indiana firms about federal compliance costs and publish an annual report of its findings.

In layman’s terms, what Pence is saying is this: Let’s spend a lot of state money to see if the federal money is worth getting.

Of course it is worth pursuing, it’s a grant, not a loan.

I know this isn’t the kind of issue the guy down the street is going to worry about. I don’t expect anyone to include Pence’s grant folly in his bedtime prayers.

But you might want to get concerned about isolating Indiana from the rest of America. This is all getting a bit scary.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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