The Baltimore Federal Team was established in response to a community crisis. The death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in April 2015 sparked a period of civil unrest in Baltimore, reflecting historic tensions along race and class lines in the city. The timing of the unrest coincided with the release of groundbreaking national research that revealed Baltimore ranked last among the nation’s 100 largest cities in economic mobility for young people. The Baltimore Federal Team was established by the White House, in consultation with the Mayor and Congressional delegation, to leverage federal assistance to help Baltimore address immediate challenges brought on by the unrest and some of the longer-term, “root cause” challenges facing the city’s youth.
Phase I : Startup and Short-term Activities
Assembling Federal Team: The White House, in consultation with key cabinet members whose agencies were already deeply involved in working with the City of Baltimore, identified a senior advisor to the Secretary of Labor (DOL) to serve as the team lead. In addition to bringing a focus on employment and economic opportunities for young people via DOL programs, the team lead had experience working with the local community.
With the team lead on board, the Administration reached out directly to cabinet members requesting that they identify a member from their team to serve as liaison to the Baltimore Federal Team. A total of 17 agencies identified team liaisons. About half of the liaisons were officials in the Secretary’s offices and the other half were senior staff in intergovernmental affairs or key program offices.
Establishing communication structures across the team: The team lead individually reached out to each agency liaison and then held a kick-off meeting to establish team structures and protocols. The team agreed to hold weekly phone calls, assemble internal agency teams that would assist with the work, and perform an initial assessment of existing investments, pending opportunities, and relevant requests for federal assistance in Baltimore. To keep the full team updated, as well as to maintain a running record of the team’s progress, the team lead provided a brief weekly report to all team members on top activities from the previous week and upcoming week. These reports were also shared with agency leadership.
Identify local point of contact and local communication structures: The team lead coordinated with the Mayor who identified her Deputy Mayor for Government Relations to serve as the local community lead. In addition, immediately following the unrest, the Mayor setup a non-profit entity called OneBaltimore charged with helping to coordinate response efforts. The head of the OneBaltimore project also served as a key point of contact to the team. The team lead worked with the local community lead to institute regular communication structures, that also included a bi-weekly call with the city’s Congressional delegation, which was coordinated by a single point of contact in the office of the delegation’s senior member.
Immediate Focus: In the aftermath of the April 2015 unrest, the Mayor and her OneBaltimore initiative placed an immediate emphasis on increasing opportunities for Baltimore’s school-aged youth during the summer months. The Federal Team therefore focused its initial efforts on mobilizing federal assistance around summer youth programs. The team worked with local partners to help Baltimore City meet its stated goal of increasing the summer jobs program from 5,000 jobs to 8,000 jobs, which would ensure that all youth who signed up for the program secured a summer employment opportunity. Federal assistance was critical in helping the City repurpose existing federal funds, sign up employer partners, and expand the offering of career enrichment activities for summer jobs participants. In addition to summer jobs, the team helped Baltimore expand its summer meals program by funding a pilot initiative approved by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which allowed the city program to offer three meals a day instead of the standard two-meal maximum.
During its first three months, the Federal Team also worked closely with the City to keep them informed of the status of the State of Maryland’s request to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for disaster assistance. Although a FEMA disaster was not declared, the Federal Team worked with the city and state to help them access other federal resources that supported the immediate response effort. The Federal Team also coordinated with the City around broader efforts led by the Department of Justice, including the establishment of a DOJ team to assist the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) in homicide investigations, and a civil rights investigation into the BPD, which was requested by the Mayor in response to the death of Freddie Gray.
Phase II: Ramp-up to Full Implementation
Develop Longer-term Areas of Focus and Priorities: Following initial successes during the Summer of 2015 with expansions of the summer jobs and meals programs, the Federal Team turned its efforts in the Fall to working with the City in identifying longer-term priority areas for federal assistance. Through an iterative process with local partners, the team identified five focus areas: 1) reducing violence; 2) increasing good career opportunities for young people; 3) expanding investment in infrastructure and livability; 4) encouraging inclusion and openness; and 5) restoring Baltimore’s public image and morale. The team then worked to identify key projects within these areas to focus agency efforts over the next year. The focus areas and projects, along with short-term accomplishments, as well as opportunities and challenges were organized and documented in a six-month report that was shared with federal, state, and local stakeholders.
Project Implementation: With a set of priorities and projects in place, the team was now in full implementation mode with individual agencies and groups of agencies focused on project management. In the area of violence reduction, DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services helped the city access grants and technical assistance to expand youth violence prevention programming and the city’s community-based Safe Streets initiative. The Department of Education worked with city schools to help them access Project SERV funds and expand school-based counseling. In the area of jobs for young people, DOL approved a demonstration grant to expand community-based sector training efforts. The Department of Commerce and Small Business Administration provided resources to expand entrepreneurship programs.
On infrastructure and livability, the Department of Transportation awarded the city a $10 million TIGER grant for port improvements and approved several infrastructure projects, including a bridge renovation and new water taxi terminal. The Department of Energy worked with the city to launch a residential solar pilot installation project and the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided a demonstration grant for offering residential lead paint abatement and education services. The Environmental Protection Agency provided grants and technical assistance to support the city’s greening efforts and USDA provide funding and technical assistance to support the city’s community garden and urban farming initiatives. Finally, several agencies worked with the city to develop a strategy for expanding access to broadband in schools and industrial parks. In the area of inclusion and openness, DOJ provided technical assistance to help the BPD develop its first-ever citywide community policing strategy and HUD provided technical assistance through the National Resource Network on inclusive anchor development tied to the city’s school construction initiative. Finally, in the area of image and morale, the team highlighted Baltimore success stories through convenings and events, including a high profile event at the White House on social entrepreneurship in Baltimore.
During this stage of the work, the composition of the Federal Team evolved. In some cases, district or local staff took on a larger role with the team if they were responsible for implementing local projects. In other cases, agency liaisons in the national office changed as the work moved from immediate response to longer-term implementation. In March 2016, almost one year after the team was established, the team lead role transitioned to another member of the team.
Phase III: Sustaining the Work:
As of the Fall of 2016, about 18 months after the establishment of the team, the work remains in the full implementation phase, although the team has begun the process of developing a sustainability plan. Going into 2017, the team composition will likely transition as a number of team members, including the team lead, are political appointees who will leave Federal service by January 2017. During the full implementation phase, involvement among career staff and federal staff in local offices has increased. The expectation is this group will continue as the core of the team and oversee the execution, completion, and evaluation of current projects.