The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Arkansas Strategic Plan of 2009 Is an Excellent Example of Regional Planning

Posted on July 01, 2009 at 11:08 AM

The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state partnership, and the states make vital contributions to the regional economic development effort. An excellent example of statewide contributions to the DRA is Arkansas’ Five-Year Delta Development Plan for the Delta Regional Authority, completed in February, 2009. This state plan aligns with and reinforces regional planning, such as the DRA’s Delta Development Highway Sytem plan and the DRA information technology plan.

We would recommend this plan as a very good model of useful strategic planning, and it is available on the DRA website at In complimenting the Arkansas plan, we are not in any way minimizing the fine contributions of the many other plans by the states and the DRA.

These messages from the Delta Caucus board of directors are lengthy, but the state plan is about 60 pages and the regional plan was about 135 pages, so these messages are much shorter by comparison and we hope they provide useful summaries of these strategic plans, along with some analysis.


  1. Infrastructure, workforce and other priorities in the Arkansas plan:
  2. Common sense explanation of “critical mass”
  3. Constructive use of statistical data on key economic indicators
  4. Grant priorities and eligibility checklist
  5. Governors’ key role in the DRA

Inclusiveness and collaboration: In our view, the merits of the Arkansas plan begin with the reality that Gov. Mike Beebe included officials from all levels in this collaborative effort. All Members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation (US Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, U.S. Rep. Marion Berry; U.S. Rep. Mike Ross; U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder; U.S. Rep. John Boozman), local planning and development districts, DRA regional staff, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and universities such as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, and the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff were consulted. We can all think of many occasions were a “smokestack” approach focusing only on one entity did not succeed. The inclusive approach of the Arkansas plan utilized knowledge and feedback from all of the key levels involved, and that is an exemplary model for the region.

Clear statement of Gov. Beebe’s priorities for state funding: In practical, down-to-earth language, the plan emphasizes that “Priority projects will be reviewed based on their relationship to a current economic and business development opportunity, regional impact, collaborative funding, and the critical needs of a local area.” Eligible projects include but are not limited to basic public infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, business development and job training.

INFRASTRUCTURE—The Arkansas plan places emphasis on developing infrastructure across a wide variety of activities, as well as other priorities in developing a knowledge-based workforce. While we all know the Delta has more than its fair share of serious problems, we should also “find the good and praise it,” as former US Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, from Marianna, often says, and this report certainly has provisions doing just that. Despite the Arkansas Delta’s sparse population and relative isolation, the Arkansas plan observes that several of its major cities have worked diligently to improve infrastructure capacity.

Rail facilities and multimodal facility in Marion: Many of the Delta’s major communities have “main line rail service or links to Class I railroads through a comprehensive network of short line railroads.” The state’s premier multimodal transportation facility is located in the Delta community of Marion in Crittenden County: it is Union Pacific’s $70 million, 60-acre facility that provides enhanced opportunities for industrial recruitment.

Air and water ports: There is exceptional port potential at Helena-West Helena, Pine Bluff, West Memphis, Crossett, Osceola, and Yellow Bend, near McGehee, providing services that can support many types of industry. The Arkansas Department of Aeronautics also analyzed the impact of airports and recommended a major expansion, and since the Delta lags behind here it stands to benefit significantly when those plans are realized. We all understand that this will not happen overnight and has to be a long-term goal that we make progress toward each year (Arkansas Dept. of Aeronautics, “Arkansas State Airport System Plan,” 2006.)

Highway improvements: Here, the state plan ties in effectively with the excellent regional plan on transportation put together by the DRA in collaboration with local, state, and federal officials. The Delta Development Highway System plan is an excellent example of regional planning and is useful in this year’s highway bill debate as we support progress on the Interstate 69 Corridor. The DDHS plan proposes numerous highway improvements to 704 miles of roads in Arkansas, including upgrading portions of Highways 49, 67, 65/82, 167, 412, 425, 530 and I-69. Instead of just asking for more money when going to the nation’s leaders, it is much more useful to go to Congress with a well thought-out document in hand, developed in consultation with all state highway and transportation departments, US DOT, as well as local experts.

Information technology: In addition to roads, utilities and buildings that have traditionally been considered infrastructure, the plan emphasizes that information technology, intellectual property and other digital connections to the global economy are essential in developing a well-skilled, well-trained workforce. Distance learning, telemedicine, expanded knowledge-based employment, and enhanced internet capabilities will increase their ability to attract new residents, recruit new business and transact their ongoing business.

Broadband: Again the state plan cites the DRA’s information technology plan (iDelta: Information Technology in the Delta, May, 2007), which was another good example of regional planning. Broadband is particularly important here, and we know that Governor Beebe’s office has worked closely with the Obama administration this year in the provisions of the stimulus package pertaining to expanded access to broadband in underserved areas like the Delta. Many of the region’s most distressed counties lack adequate access to telecommunications infrastructure, leading to a host of obstacles in economic, educational and medical benefits. The Arkansas Capital Corporation has cited analysis by the CSE Freedom Foundation indicating that bringing broadband Internet to the entire state could create 8,200 new jobs and add $2.6 billion annually to the Gross State Product. Since the Delta currently lags well behind the rest of the state in this field, much of that growth would be in the underserved east Arkansas Delta.

Long-term potential for the rural Delta due to information technology: In this “virtual” era, when so many people can work from home and your location is becoming increasingly less important as information technology becomes more important, the potential for the Delta’s growth is immense. Would most people rather live in the scenic Delta, or in the crowded, traffic-snarled, smoggy urban areas? As one who unfortunately has had to spend a lot of time in a large city, I can say that to ask that question is to answer it. If you have an Internet-based job where your location becomes increasingly less important, of course more and more people will have a preference for the more pleasant life-styles in the Delta.

We have already seen this phenomenon in the case of Northern retirees moving South, but when we reach that day when the Delta has widespread broadband access and a strong information technology infrastructure, the Delta is likely to become a preferred location for many people to work—not just to retire. That day won’t come until we expand broadband access tremendously to the underserved Delta, but when it does come the possibilities for our region are immense. Gov. Beebe, the DRA and the Arkansas plan are looking to the future in emphasizing information technology.

Alternative energy: Governor Beebe, Congressman Mike Ross, Congressman Marion Berry, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Senator Mark Pryor have long been among the nation’s leaders in calling for an expansion of biofuels and other renewable energy. Governor Beebe has often said that the Delta has the potential to be “the Silicon Valley of renewable energy.” Bio-based fuels and products such as ethanol and biodiesel have been expanding in importance in Arkansas’ economy in recent years. There is great potential in forest biomass and rice hulls as potential feedstock for cellulosic bio-fuel production. About 60 percent of Arkansas is covered by forest, so forest biomass is a logical candidate to help Arkansas “sustain bio-fuel production, in the form of cellulosic ethanol, indefinitely.”

Production of natural gas from the Fayetteville Shale also extends into one part of the DRA area in Independence, White and Jackson counties, although much of this is based farther west. Nonetheless, the Fayetteville Shale is helpful in job creation and expanded state and local tax revenue for these DRA counties, and this again is an area of positive and recent economic activity in the region.

Common sense explanation of “critical mass:” If critical mass economic analysis is explained in a down-to-earth, common sense way, it can be a useful tool. Unfortunately as we explained in the previous message in this session, our view is that sections of the regional DRA report completed in June, 2008 utilized too much jargon and in fact made a few statements that were inconsistent with much of the rest of that report. In contrast, the Arkansas state plan refrains from the esoteric jargon and other flaws in that section of the state report.

There was some confusion in other commentary on critical mass analysis as to whether it argues in favor of a bias in funding in favor of those communities that have already attained critical mass. The Arkansas plan makes clear that the goal is to help all Delta communities try to develop critical mass, calling for the development of regional strategic plans “addressing how every community can contribute to building regional ‘critical mass.’” The plan reiterates one of the Governor’s economic goals, which is that economic development policy will “meet the special needs and take advantage of the extraordinary assets of various areas of the state. It will not be one size fits all.”

Critical mass is defined as “the underlying resources needed to stimulate sustainable growth and investments. Critical mass communities are those communities in which the necessary elements exist in sufficient quantity to create a sustain a vital economy.” This plan wisely refrains from using esoteric jargon in explaining the community growth characteristics of critical mass. We include one chart here that helps summarize them:

Table 1: Critical Mass Community Growth Characteristics RANK CHARACTERISTICS EXAMPLES

1 Healthy People Improving life expectancy 2 Expanding Population People moving into a community 3 Skilled Workforce Jobs for skilled labor and professional occupations 4 Multi-Cultural Foreign-born people moving into a community 5 New Companies Jobs in companies started in the last five years 6 Entrepreneurial Culture Percentage of self-employed people in the workforce 7 Community-Wide Culture of Learning Public school growth enrollment

This is the same table printed elsewhere, so what’s the difference in this section as opposed to others, (for example, the June, 2008 regional strategic plan) some may ask? The answer is that this section and explanation in the Arkansas state plan does not utilize jargon that is useless to everyone except an economist or a technocrat, and the state plan also does not include any statements that could be construed as a bias against funding to a community that has not already attained critical mass.

Used in this common sense way, the critical mass analysis in the state plan is just a down-to-earth way to emphasize several key characteristics that are widely known to contribute to economic development.

No one advocates massive expenditures on the smallest Delta communities: No serious analyst of the regional economy ever said the government should invest all or even most of the funding on the smallest communities. It is obvious that Arkansas’ criteria such as economic and business development, regional impact, collaborative funding and critical needs funding will probably in many cases have a tendency to go toward somewhat larger communities in order to reach a larger number of people; in many cases, people who live in the smallest communities will be able to drive to job opportunities created in a somewhat larger community. Of course the money should be spent efficiently and not be dispersed into many tiny, inefficient projects, and the state plan has a series of practical explanations to guide communities in their applications.

The Arkansas approach that “one size does not fit all” makes a great deal of sense. If a smaller community does present a worthwhile application, there will be a tendency for the funding amounts to be correspondingly smaller. A community may have a valid project that could offer jobs to people from a wider area around it, and a valid smaller-scale project can also have value as a model for “best practices” that others might want to replicate. A transportation improvement in one local area logically fits into the regional transportation system. If a tiny community does ask for an unreasonably large amount of funding that would be proportionally a large proportion of the DRA’s limited funding, of course the objective criteria will mean that such an application will not be accepted.


While we all know that long lists of data summarizing the region’s economic problems can very quickly become tedious, on the other hand a few concise summaries updating where we stand on a few key economic indicators like poverty levels or unemployment are quite useful. The state plan has a few easy-to-read graphs, and it clearly delineates the differences between the heartland Delta counties and the rest of the state. Use of statewide statistics to talk about the Delta is obviously not useful, given the wide divergence between the east Arkansas Delta and such prosperous areas as central and northwest Arkansas. This plan carefully distinguishes between the regions of Arkansas.

Per capita income: Appendix A (page 41) uses 2006 figures and gives a very useful summary of per capita income. Although Pulaski County is a DRA county, its relative prosperity and status as a large urban area obviously place it in a different category, and DRA funding goes basically to economically distressed counties. The summary here is quick and useful:

State per capita income: $28,473

Majority of Delta counties $19,597 to $28,472

These include the 39 DRA counties that are more typical of the region. Some of the more distressed counties had very low per capita income, such as Lee County at $19,653, or Lincoln at $19,817, or Desha County at $22,223.

It is highly useful to look at the core Delta counties, because statewide statistics will skew the result and do not give an accurate picture, and within the DRA area Pulaski County skews the results. So looking at those 39 more typical Delta counties is a highly useful way to summarize the economic picture of the Delta area in Arkansas.

Poverty levels: Another chart on 2007 poverty statistics (page 42) focuses again on the heartland Delta counties. Craighead County is another exception to the rule, in its relative prosperity as opposed to the rest of the region. This chart delineates Pulaski and nearby counties that are helped by their location where people can commute to jobs in Little Rock, as well as the few counties—primarily Craighead and Greene—that are not typical of the region. This analysis yields the following results:

Statewide percentage of population below the poverty level: 17.6 %

Counties that are more urbanized and farther west in Arkansas 10.6 to 17.5%

30 counties in the heart of the Delta 17.6 to 37.2%

Some of the Delta counties had staggering poverty levels: Phillips County has 37.2%; Chicot County at 32.4%; Lee County at 31.6%; Desha County at 26.6%.

Unemployment rates: The third and final chart on 2007 unemployment rates again demonstrate the usefulness in looking at the heartland Delta counties

Statewide unemployment: 5.4%

DRA counties in central Arkansas and Craighead (atypical counties) 4.4 to 5.3%

36 Delta counties: 5.4 to 10.2%



These statistics were compiled before the full force of the recession hit. We often hear people say that since the Delta was already depressed, it was not hit as badly by the recession. This is inaccurate.

First, unemployment statistics recently in Delta counties are somber. While the statewide average in May, 2009

National average: 9.4%

Arkansas average 7.0%

Figures from some key Delta counties:

Arkansas County 14.2% Ashley County 9.4% Bradley County 9.8% Chicot County 9.7% Clay County 9.5% Crittenden County 8.8% Desha County 9.2% Drew County 9.7% Jackson County 9.1% Lee County 7.8% Mississippi County 13.9% Phillips County 7.9% St. Francis County 9.1% Woodruff County 9.3%

In Desha County, for example, the fine community of Dumas recently lost 180 jobs due to plant closings in the recession.

In fact, the great majority of the Delta counties are lower than the statewide average. Even there, it needs to be taken into consideration that many people in the Delta have become so demoralized that they no longer seek jobs, and so are not counted in the unemployment figures. Out-migration has increased in recent years, and with the recession that process in the Delta will continue.

Moreover, even in counties where the unemployment rate may not be alarmingly high at first glance, consider the high poverty rates and lower per capita incomes in cases like Lee and Phillips counties. It is not true that the Delta has not suffered much in the recession because “they were already depressed.and didn’t have far to fall.” The Delta counties are still far below the national average even in this national recession, with higher unemployment in many cases and far higher poverty rates.


The state plan has detailed explanations for local planning and development districts in developing their applications. This information is condensed admirably in a “Grant Eligibility & Priority Checklist.” This is such an excellent job of condensing so much material into one page that we will include it here:

Grant Eligibility & Priority Checklist

This list is provided as a guide to assist you in developing your project, and preparing your pre-application. For all of the following components, check all that apply. Complying with the checklist may not guarantee that your project is or is not fundable. List is not exhaustive.

DRA Eligible Projects:

 Basic Public Infrastructure or Transportation Infrastructure

• Job Creation or Retention

 Business Development

• Job Creation or Retention

• Creation of new business, or retention or expansion of existing business

• Entrepreneurship Emphasis

 Workforce Development and Job Training

• Job Creation or Retention

• Does the training utilize existing public educational institutions in the region?

Governor Beebe’s DRA Funding Priorities

 Economic & Business Development

 Regional Impact—does your project benefit a larger region than your own city or county; did it grow from a regional partnership, and/or was it included in a regional strategic plan?

 Collaborative Funding –does your project involve multiple funding sources?

 Critical needs—does the problem involve aging and/or failing infrastructure, and/or is the problem an eminent public health or safety threat, or involve an urgent circumstance? Water/wastewater projects must be tied to an economic development project.

Other Considerations:

 Sustainability—applicants must demonstrate capability of maintaining project

 Congressional Delegation Input—letters of support are included

 Readiness to Proceed—projects should be under contract within 18 months of approval

Ineligible Activities (include but are not limited to; see clarification notes for details and exceptions):

 Local, state and/or federal road, highway and/or bridge maintenance projects

 Normal or on-going operating costs

 Government facility construction and/or improvements

 “Speculative,” “Maintenance,” or “Deferred Maintenance” projects

 Feasibility/marketing type studies

For technical assistance, contact your local Planning or Economic Development District, or:

Howard Hemphill, Delta Regional Authority, Director of Federal Grant Program, 1-888-GO TO DRA

Jean Noble, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, (501) 682-1121;

Christopher A. Masingill, Governor Mike Beebe’s office, Designee & Alternate; (501) 682-2345


We have previously indicated in this series that while the 2008 regional plan has many fine sections, we disagree with parts of it. One statement with which we do not agree concerns the governors’ role. After noting the Congressional mandate that 75% of total DRA funds must be invested in distressed counties and 50 percent must go to transportation and basic infrastructure, the report makes this statement about the role of the governors: “DRA governors will also maintain complete flexibility and discretion in making grant decisions within each of the competitive categorical funds.” (page 9, “Rethinking the Delta,” DRA regional plan, June, 2008).

Giving the governors’ complete discretion on funding decisions is not advisable: While we acknowledge that the governors always have and always will play a very important role in the functioning of the DRA, we believe this language goes too far in saying the governors should maintain “complete flexibility and discretion in making grant decisions.” If all the governors were as fair and efficient as Gov. Mike Beebe, this might be fine, although even in the case of a superb governor we are a little uneasy with the phrase “complete flexibility and discretion.” There have been other instances in which giving complete flexibility to the governors resulted in questionable decisions. It is wiser to emphasize the collaborative, collegial nature of cooperation among local, state, regional and federal levels, rather than singling out one source of power for unrestricted discretion.

Collaborative, collegial approach of local, state, and federal levels: The state plan stresses collaborative, regional projects to better utilize scarce resources, and that “Governor Beebe will continue to work closely with officials throughout the Delta region, especially planning and economic development districts and the Federal Congressional delegation, to ensure that regional projects are funded.” Inclusion of local planning districts and all Members of Congress would seem like an obvious point, but as a matter of fact there have been instances elsewhere in the region in which governors have not collaborated as well with Members of Congress as Gov. Beebe has, and in certain instances have not provided sufficient technical assistance to local districts.

Gov. Beebe’s inclusive approach of consulting the Congressional delegation, local officials, DRA staff, and others involved in economic development is the best solution to this question. Giving a blank check in allowing all governors complete discretion in funding decisions is unwise.

Unfortunately, when a Governor is a member of one party and a Member of Congress is of another party, and the Governor provides funding for the Member from his own party but steers funding away from a Member of the opposing party, it creates the perception, if not the reality, of political favoritism. As a nonprofit grassroots coalition that promotes economic development in the eight-state, 252-county area covered by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus supports and closely follows the activities of the DRA. It came to the public’s attention that in 2007, there was no DRA funding within the state of Mississippi for the Congressional district of U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), while all the funding in that year went to the district of former U.S. Representative Chip Pickering (R-MS).

Given the fact that Congressman Thompson’s district makes up the lion’s share of the DRA in the state of Mississippi, this result was surprising. We don’t want to make any harsh criticisms of any of the leaders and organizations involved in this unfortunate outcome. We understand that the Governor of each state in the DRA plays an important role in deciding which applications for funding are approved and which are not. We understand that there are several levels, agencies and leaders involved in these decisions, including the local planning and development districts that draft the original applications, the DRA staff that certifies whether each application is eligible for DRA funding, and the Governors certainly have a major say in these funding decisions, and well they should. Beyond that, the Presidential administration in its annual budget request and ultimately the US Congress in providing the final funding figure provides the overall budget limitations under which the entire DRA has to work. We understand that all those involved in the DRA are constrained by the very limited amount of federal funding for all of the projects.

Congressman Thompson wrote a letter to the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee last year in which he referred to the fact that some counties that are most economically distressed did not receive any grant money at all in 2007 from the DRA. The House Appropriations Committee adopted Congressman Thompson’s language in their report, which stated, “In the view of this committee, this lapse is unacceptable, given the authority’s primary mission is to assist the counties where the most needs exist.” To make sure that no one misinterprets our point of view, we believe that Congressman Thompson had a legitimate position, and we can certainly understand why the Congressman would be concerned that his district did not receive any funding that year.

The 2007 situation in Mississippi was an exception to the rule, and the vast majority of DRA funding has gone to the most distressed areas: We understand that part of the problem may have been that the local planning and development districts from the Congressional district that did not receive any funding either asked for too large an amount of funding or had other difficulties with their applications.

To be fair and accurate, we should also point out the facts that over the history of the DRA thus far, Congressman Thompson’s district received almost twice as much funding as former Congressman Pickering’s district, having been awarded 34 projects for a total of approximately $4.96 million from 2002 to 2007, while Congressman Pickering’s district was awarded 13 projects for approximately $2.527 million. Former Congressman Roger Wicker’s district received four projects for $250,000 over that period.

We should also emphasize the crucial facts that overall, the DRA has devoted over 93 percent of its funding to economically distressed counties throughout the entire eight-state, 240-county (as you know, the DRA was expanded last year to 252 counties and parishes) over its entire history thus far. In considering the facts that Congressman Thompson’s district has received by far the largest amount of funding in the state of Mississippi over the DRA’s history, as well as the over 93 percent of funding that has gone to economically distressed counties in the region as a whole, it is clear that the vast majority of DRA funding has gone and continues to go to the most distressed areas.

While the fact that Congressman Thompson’s district has received by far the largest share of the DRA funding within Mississippi speaks for itself, statistics can always be interpreted in different ways. Most of this funding took place before Gov. Barbour took office. While we are certainly not saying that partisanship definitely had anything to do with any of these decisions, there are those who contend that it raises concerns about the decision of Governor Haley Barbour’s decision making on grants, when Congressman Thompson received substantially larger levels of funding under the previous Democratic Governor of Mississippi than he did under Gov, Barbour, who is a Republican. For example, approximately $3.934 million of the $4.96 million total that has gone to Rep. Thompson’s district took place under an earlier Democratic Governor of Mississippi, and a far smaller share under a Republican Governor.

We would take the same position of concern if a Democratic Governor steered all the funding to a Democratic Member of Congress’ district and none to a Republican Member. Giving all the governors complete discretion to make funding decisions however they see fit will inevitably lead to situations like the one that took place in Mississippi in 2007.

Again, we certainly hope that this was an accident or an aberration that took place in 2007, and will try to give Gov. Barbour and staff the benefit of the doubt. As we understood their position, they emphasized the nature of the applications they received that year from the local applicants in the Congressional district in question. We certainly hope there was not any partisanship involved, although we also have to state the reality that many people involved in regional community and economic development stated that it certainly gave the appearance of favoritism.

As a matter of reality, however, the great majority of the observers of the DRA would believe that a district as large as Congressman Thompson’s should not ever have a year in which it did not receive any DRA funding at all. If safeguards and best practices could be put into place by the key actors concerned, we believe this would be beneficial. This is in the spirit of constructive criticism. We are sure that the governors, the DRA staff, the Congress, and the local districts are by and large doing a very fine job. Any agency–especially one as new as the DRA that is faced with such a huge task as promoting economic development throughout the Delta region with such a small budget–could use some improving, fine-tuning and revising as it develops and matures.

Having said that, and emphasizing that the funding allocation in Mississippi in 2007 was an exception to the rule, it still does appear that Congressman Thompson raised a legitimate concern in his letter to the Congressional committee. Even if the development districts’ applications were not as strong as they should have been in a given year, a district as large as Congressman Thompson’s ought to get at least some funding every year. We would suggest that all the forces involved develop policies and safeguards as to how a recurrence of this situation can be prevented in the future.

We would note that Gov. Mike Beebe (D-AR) and Gov. Bob Riley (R-AL) both pursue policies where they involve Members of Congress from the earliest stages of the application and funding process. The DRA staff has conducted excellent sessions at their conferences on how all phases–local, state, regional and federal–should have extensive consultation and interaction throughout the process.

We are aware that the local planning and development districts have to take their fair share of the responsibility for drafting sound funding applications. The DRA has sought to do everything it can to inform these districts on how to develop applications that meet the criteria to be eligible for funding and that are otherwise well thought-out, do not ask for excessively large amounts of funding, and are otherwise of high quality. We know that the governor’s offices do not control the local planning and development districts. We would suggest that all levels–local, state, regional and federal–work together and try to develop further ideas on how to make sure the local planning and development districts are as well informed as possible and adequate funding for solid technical assistance is provided.

President Obama will be appointing a new Federal Co-Chair soon: We are aware that the Federal Co-Chairman has a 50 percent vote in the decisions of the DRA. President Obama will soon be appointing a new Federal Co-Chair. We would suggest to the new Federal Co-Chair that he or she keep a close eye on any funding decisions in which even the appearance of favoritism or partisanship are involved. In these types of cases, it is advisable to steer clear of anything such as a Governor of one party steering all the funding to another Member of Congress of their own party and none to the other party.

It is unfortunate that President Obama has waited so long in making these important DRA appointments. We know several qualified applicants applied for these posts months ago. These positions should be filled now.

The Democratic Governor Mike Beebe and the Republican Governor Riley of Alabama have developed policies of an inclusive approach in which all Members of Congress, local officials and others involved are included throughout the process: as a matter of reality, everyone knows the governors have great political power and influence in comparison with the Federal Co-Chairman and his very small staff. The governors are inevitably going to have a major say in the funding decisions and thus far in the DRA’s history they have certainly had a major role. That will continue, but if the Congressional, local, state and regional leaders could get together and develop a process along the lines of what Gov. Beebe and Gov. Riley are now following, that would be a very good result. We are citing one Democratic Governor (Beebe) and one Republican Governor (Riley) as good role models, so this is not partisan.

In allotting responsibility for the DRA funding process, which by and large has functioned well most of the time, we would point out the following points in summation:

1) When the bipartisan group of Members of Congress created the DRA and it was signed into law in late 2000, its funding was envisaged at $30 million, and in fact it is still authorized at that more reasonable level. President Obama’s first budget increased the amount to $13 million, and that is a step in the right direction. The Bush administration cut the original DRA budget to $5 million by 2004, and in that year requested a further cut down to $2 million. Since that time, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has increased the funding up to approximately $12 million, and recently the Senate Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an increase to $20 million. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi has played a key role in increasing the budget of the DRA. We would point out the fact that the Bush administration’s budget cut requests every year for the DRA were one of the major factors in the very small budget that the DRA had to deal with.

The point is that the Congress and the national administration have the key role in determining how large the overall DRA budget is, and that means that all the states have a very small amount of funding from the DRA to allocate. We know this makes the governors’ task much harder, because you have to allocate very small amounts of funding to tackle the very difficult economic issues of the Delta region.

2) We appreciate those Members of Congress, including Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Sen. Cochran (R-MS) and many others of both parties who have worked to increase the DRA budget, and we know they will continue to do so in future years. Congressman Thompson is also among those Members of Congress who supports a larger budget for the DRA, along with many other Members in the eight-state region from southern Illinois down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

President Obama should follow through on his pledges to increase the DRA budget as US Senator and Presidential candidate, and he has increased it from the Bush requests of $6 million up to $13 million, a first step in the right direction.

3) Governors Riley and Beebe have developed sound guidelines: Governors Beebe and Riley are good role models in their inclusive strategy whereby they bring in Congressional, local, state and other levels throughout the process. We know that you may be in the process of following such a strategy as well, and if so, that is very beneficial.

4) Local planning and development districts should receive more technical assistance so that the quality of funding applications across the region is not as uneven as it is now. It is well known that there is a wide gulf in the quality of these applications. Everyone involved needs to work in helping the local districts improve their funding applications.

5) The DRA staff is very small and they are doing a fine job with a small budget and under difficult circumstances. It is quite a challenge to promote economic development over such a vast region that includes many impoverished areas. Again, any agency–especially one as new as the DRA–will improve, revise and fine-tune its processes as time goes along, so we just offer this letter in the spirit of trying to help all the forces involved in the DRA in their work of bringing about a better economic future for the people of our region. Thank you very much. Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC (202) 360-6347