Charles Chieppo is a research fellow at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School.E-mail: Charlie_Chieppo@hks.harvard.edu
With more than 40 percent of discretionary non-defense federal spending taking the form of grants to states, it's no surprise that governors want a say in any deal to avert the impending fiscal cliff. And since the fiscal pain that Washington inflicts upon the states undoubtedly will be shared by local governments, there is a growing desire on the part of both state and local governments to leverage as much talent as possible in an effort to realize efficiencies.
One organization helping governments effectively leverage talent is Fuse Corps, which provides high-quality entrepreneurial professionals who have at least eight years experience with one-year fellowships to work in statehouses, in city halls and with local coalitions working on important public policy issues.
Several things set Fuse Corps apart from other fellowship programs. First and foremost is the caliber of the professionals it attracts as fellows. But just as important is the specific "fit" the organization provides for them.
"What's your goal? We'll get you the right person," says Fuse Corps' founding CEO, Jennifer Anastasoff. But the organization requires a discrete project with real responsibility and measurable deliverables. "We'll keep them busy" isn't good enough, Anastasoff says.
Fellows must have access to senior leaders, such as the mayor, governor or leader of a community coalition. Fuse Corps is also looking for fellows to work on programs that can be replicated on a national scale.
For example, Lisa Gans is a human-rights lawyer who helped write new constitutions in Iraq and Swaziland. But this year she's creating a five-year strategic plan for the start-up D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Promise Neighborhoods is a U.S. Department of Education initiative inspired by the Harlem Children's Zone, which for more than 40 years has been providing comprehensive support to break the cycle of poverty in an inner-city neighborhood.
Laurel Lichty is an international lawyer with experience in the energy and technology sectors who also has been an adjunct law professor at the University of London's external program in Buenos Aires. These days you'll find her in Dover, Del. The state was one of only two to be funded in the first round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition, designed to promote innovations in public education. Lichty is working with the state's secretary of education to promote and measure progress toward Race to the Top goals.
Anastasoff says Fuse Corps provides a way for accomplished professionals to move "from salary to significance"--at a cost to taxpayers that is a fraction of what those professionals would normally earn. The fellows are either on loan from companies that continue to pay their salaries, or Fuse Corps pays them a $90,000 stipend. Fuse Corps is funded by placement fees from the governments or local agents hosting the fellows, which promotes buy-in, as well as from foundations and other private funds.
The current group of fellows is only Fuse Corps' first, but they're already having a major impact. Anastasoff attributes that to the program being developed at "a defining moment." "Ten or 15 years ago, this program wouldn't have been as welcomed by governments as it is today," she says. But that was before the pressures to develop new and creative ways to relieve fiscal pressure became so severe, and before Fuse Corps provided one inexpensive and systematic means of tapping private-sector expertise to help solve public problems.
NOTE: This post has been corrected to indicate that the current group of Fuse Corps fellows is the organization's first.