A public safety battle in Wilmington, DE provides a foreshadowing of the ensuing controversy regarding how stimulus money should be spent. An article on www.delawareonline.com, describes the reaction of the police union to the city’s spending of $1.5 million received from the Byrne/JAG program funded by the stimulus. The funds were used to bolster two police-related programs instead of using the money for police salaries. Prior to this, the city had been in negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, and was prepared to lay off 17 officers if the union did not accept wage freezes (which it eventually accepted). Instead of utilizing the stimulus money to enhance salaries and avoid layoffs, the city funded a social work and police “partnering program” for children, and anti-crime surveillance cameras.
Union officials are calling for a federal investigation into “misuse” of funds, while the city is defending its decision and adherence to federal grant guidelines.
Expect more of this type of controversy–much more. Funding priority decisions are never easy and someone always loses out. As such, the battle for many projects will be waged in the arena of politics and public opinion (even more than usual given the magnitude and sensitivity of the stimulus). Even great vendors with outstanding products and services can be cast in a negative light by the opposition or the media looking for “dirt.”
Providers should prepare themselves for the ensuing environment as much as possible. Media training and public relations activities, if not a part of the marketing plan, should be pursued. Straightforward and honest responses to RFPs should be common practice as everyone will be watching (and waiting for a slip up). Open and frequent communications with the customer is also critical for detecting possible “situations.” Delivering strong value while keeping an eye on the political landscape will help vendors navigate both the pitfalls and the opportunities.