To better serve farmers, ranchers, families, and American taxpayers, as well as key institutional partners, NIFA is undertaking an initiative to evaluate and optimize how it delivers services.
Since NIFA was created as a standalone agency in 2008, priorities, processes and technologies have evolved significantly. However, it is no secret that the Agency’s underlying approach for delivering services has not evolved in complete harmony.
Purpose and Context
NIFA believes we can—and should—do business more efficiently and effectively for employees and partners, both internal and external. By doing so, the Agency will better fulfill the mission to invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. The Project CAFÉ initiative directly supports USDA’s strategic goal to ensure “USDA programs are delivered efficiently, effectively, and with integrity and a focus on customer service,” as it calls for NIFA to gather feedback from external and internal customers on NIFA’s current performance, listen to and analyze the feedback, and take improvement actions accordingly.
Phase 1 of Project CAFÉ officially kicked off in January 2020. As a part of this initial phase, NIFA solicited and received more than 900 comments from 40 sources in response to the following four key questions:
- How can NIFA improve delivery of capacity programs for supporting research and extension?
- What changes could improve NIFA’s implementation of competitive programs?
- How can NIFA increase transparency and effectiveness of organizational structure?
- What steps can NIFA take to enhance customer experience?
In March 2020, NIFA leadership established a five-member CAFÉ Board responsible for reviewing the comments, analyzing the feedback and developing a set of improvement recommendations for NIFA to pursue. On August 5, 2020, the Project CAFÉ Board delivered its final recommendation report to NIFA’s Executive Council. In its report, the Board identified 40 longer-term improvement recommendations as well as eight short-term opportunities.
In Phase 2 of the initiative, NIFA task order teams were charged with implementing five of the identified quick action opportunities: new hire training for three key positions, reinforcing quality comments from panels, standardizing application deadlines, technology to support virtual panels and mitigating delays between notification and award. All five of the task order teams successfully completed their charter within their planned 90-day timeframe. Major highlights of this phase include standardizing RFA deadlines to 5pm Local Time for all applicants as well as publishing an easy-to-understand visual representation of the Competitive Grants process on NIFA’s website.
Phase 3: Today and Into the Future
Project CAFÉ is currently in Phase 3, which is the first phase to focus on addressing the longer-term improvement opportunities. As a part of this phase, eight long-term initiatives have been kicked off. Going forward, the Project CAFÉ program will be structured in sequential six-month phases with the efforts of each phase requiring comprehensive review and approval by NIFA’s Executive Council.
Goals of PROJECT CAFÉ
- Optimize NIFA’s service delivery approach to better align with current business practices and technologies
- Provide NIFA employees with the tools and resources needed to successfully perform duties with confidence
Exciting improvements are coming to NIFA in the months ahead as a result of Project CAFÉ. NIFA looks forward to keeping you updated!