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Taken for Granted? Managing for Social Equity in Grant Programs


Brian K. Collins is an associate professor at the University of North Texas. His research interests include the implementation of community development and health care policies, bureaucratic representation, and citizen satisfaction in performance management. His research has appeared in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, and the American Journal of Political Science.

Brian J. Gerber is an associate professor in the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute at Louisiana State University. His research interests include regulatory policy, especially at the state level, and homeland security administration. He has published articles in journals such as Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Political Research Quarterly, Policy Studies Journal, State Politics and Policy Quarterly, and Urban Affairs Review.


Managing for social equity performance has long been a goal without much guidance for public managers. We examine social equity performance in the context of indirect governance through the administration of grant programs and, more specifically, the matching of policy responses (grant funding) to social needs. Grant program managers must allocate funding to match needs while also ensuring accountability, but common administrative models that rely on competition can undermine social equity performance. We develop a unique framework to analyze the relative social equity performance of four models of grant administration in general. These models are defined by whether competitions or formulas are used to select grantees and to allocate funding. We test the implications of the framework in an analysis of funding distributions from the nonentitlement Community Development Block Grant program in four states. Our findings suggest that social equity in grant programs is better served when grantors do not rely solely on competitive grant contracting in the selection and distribution of grant funds, which is typical in grant administration. However, policy makers and managers can design institutional arrangements that utilize competition, but in a manner that does not create a bias against more socially equitable funding decisions.