When it comes to involvement in human services, the federal government usually gets dinged more for its straight-jacket rules and regulations around spending than it gets praise for being a creative partner in innovation. But for the past few years, there's been a faction of folks at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who have been interested in leveraging the cash and the coordinating capacity of the feds with the creativity of all those on the front line -- states, localities, providers and advocates.

The manifestation of this interest is a performance partnership pilot aimed at tackling the problem of disconnected youth, defined as young adults who are neither working nor in school. OMB officials are looking for up to 10 pilot sites that will be allowed to blend existing federal funds in order to experiment with new approaches to helping these kids get an education and a job. Winning pilots are also eligible for up to $700,000 in additional funding.

This appears in our free Human Services e-newsletter. Not already a subscriber? Click here.

Under the proposed pilot program, the U.S. departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, will work, according to the OMB, to "overcome barriers and align programs and reporting requirements, enabling applicants to propose the most effective ways to use these dollars."

There are an estimated 5.6 million disconnected youth nationally, a number that's remained fairly steady over the past few years. But it's a number large enough to have gotten Congress' attention. Under the Workforce Innovation Act passed this summer, Congress is requiring that at least 75 percent of workforce assistance spending be targeted toward disconnected youth.

It's not just that disconnected youth represent a huge reservoir of wasted potential. A White House analysis of the problem estimates that more than 60 percent of crime committed by young adults is committed by disconnected youth. The same analysis estimates that each disconnected youth cost this country nearly $14,000 a month.

"Government and community partners invest considerable attention and resources to the needs of America's disconnected youth," the OMB press release said, and those "on the front lines of service delivery have let us know that achieving powerful outcomes is still sometimes inhibited by programmatic and administrative obstacles."

At least under this pilot, the feds are working in the intergovernmental role that suits them best -- as coordinator and collaborator -- and as results from the experiment begin to flow in, as teacher and disseminator of best practices too.

More information on the application is available at federalregister.gov.