Sullivan’s management vision comes out in OJP’s grant making overhaul

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The Office of Justice Programs is the largest grant making component within the Justice Department.  Each year, it awards more than $5 billion to about 3,000 grantees.

So when it came to standardizing OJP’s approach to grant making, Katie Sullivan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Office of Justice Programs, was more like a plate spinner in the circus than a typical federal manager. If each of the six bureaus under OJP were a plate, Sullivan was balancing all of their needs equally being sure not to let any one of them fall.

“We ask grantees to meet basic minimum requirements. So that’s the first thing an application is reviewed for. I said to my team, I think we need to review our basic minimum requirements,” Sullivan said in an interview with Federal News Network. “Our number one goal is to write solicitations or funding opportunities in a way people can understand them, things that reflect what Congress has told us the funding is for and then on the back end, once applications are received, effectively reviewing them through a merit based review system and then getting money out the door.”

Katie Sullivan is the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs.

Sullivan, who has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the assistant attorney general, said OJP looked at its paperwork and funding announcements to make sure they are easier to understand and written in plain language.

“We are trying to keep things very streamlined and clean,” she said. “I know from being a rural judge who ran both a DUI and a drug court and we would occasionally think about getting federal funding, but you’d pull up the application and it seemed too complicated and we didn’t have the administrative staff to do that. I want to make sure our funding is available to everyone across the country, and that they don’t get tripped up because it’s too hard to understand. Solicitations don’t have to be 75 pages long.”

The improvements of the grants process is a straightforward example of how Sullivan is leading OJP. She said successful management is about creating a vision and then implementing it.

“We went line-by-line through solicitations. We had program planning meetings. We had a lot of the discussions on the front end before the appropriations bill was actually passed. We could talk about what this will look like so people had a pretty good outline when it came time to write the solicitation,” she said. “We are about 65% of where I want to be in this first year and we will be 100% there by next year.”

After serving 11 years as a state trial court judge in Colorado I had the huge privilege of being offered a position at the Department of Justice as the principal deputy director of the Office on Violence Against Women. Then I was asked by Attorney General William Barr to lead the Office of Justice Programs … I joined the federal government to make a positive difference in people’s lives and I could not think of a better place to do that than at DOJ.

I heard Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speak. She was asked if she could go back and change any decision she had made what would it be. She said you have to make your decisions based on the information you have at the time and move on. That perspective was very helpful when I served as a judge. I also appreciate the management advice about Vision – Implement – Motivate. As a manager you need to do all three!

 

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” — President Abraham Lincoln. I love this quote as it reminds me all things are possible.

"The Boy Crisis" by Dr. Warren Farrell. On a micro level my take away was the need for boys and men to feel a purpose. The macro take away was as society shifts and changes we can not leave our boys behind.

Alcoholics Anyonomous co-founder Bill Wilson. He has changed the lives of tens of millions of people by sharing his experience. He showed the value of community in healing and continues to provide hope every day.

Before joining the Justice Department in 2018, Sullivan served as a Colorado state trial court judge since 2007 and before that she was a deputy district attorney in Colorado.

These experiences helped shape her approach to managing OJP.

“For me, I think where can I do better around vision, implementation and motivation of employees? Sometimes I’m very quick to make decisions so learning to slow down would make my vision better. And if the vision isn’t implementable, then it has no legs,” she said. “I like to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and as efficiently as possible, so I have to make sure getting to the end goal I don’t miss things in between. I try to look at where I’m measuring up and try to improve every day.”

Part of managing such a large organization is the need for collaboration, not just like-minded people, but anyone who is touched by an issue.

Sullivan said this is even harder, but more important during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are very tele-ready at OJP. Luckily, we have been pretty business as usual minus the travel, the speeches and the conferences and things like that. I’m an extrovert so I really miss seeing everyone,” she said. “For us, our mission stays the same so we have been able to pivot and continue work.”

Sullivan said now that the concept and process of working remotely has settled into a routine, she said OJP’s staff is moving forward in meeting its mission and goals.

Whether or not employees are in the office or working remotely, Sullivan said she tries to abide by the same set of personal and management principles.

She said communication, even explaining why she made a decision that may upset a person or an office, remains her top priority as a manager.

“It’s incredible to me the kind of transition that federal employees are asked to deal with on a daily basis. They have no control. They often times do not have great communication about it. There are a lot of unhealthy markers and change in the federal government every four years. You have federal employees who are facing major changes in their life and yet they have very little control over it,” she said. “I try to be a good communicator. I try to give those markers of healthy change and transition to the employees here. I can’t do that perfectly, but I do my best.”