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Zombie Funding – Six Tana Leaves for Life, Nine for Motion

December 4th, 2007 · by Isaac Seliger · 3 Comments

Jake’s post on Zombie Funding got me thinking about my favorite Zombie program, the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) program. This oddball program emerged in 1978 during the Carter administration and was supposed to link economic development with park development, a curious combination even by federal standards. In 1979, I wrote the first two UPARR grants, one for planning and one for implementation, while working as a full-time grant writer for the City of Lynwood. The planning grant was particularly fun to write, as the City only had two parks and it was quite a stretch to dream up complex planning tasks. But such is the joy of grant writing. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) Program Officers, a group that really knew how to party, was so impressed that they invited me to the first, and probably only, annual UPARR conference in San Antonio. Not much of a conference, but I did get to shake hands with Henry Cisneros, a rising political star who might have been President, except for a minor personal peccadillo.

Time passed, and when Reagan rode into D.C., UPARR was one of the first casualties. I assumed it was gone forever, but I failed to take the Zombie factor into account. It was never actually killed. Instead, it was kept out of appropriation bills, which brings me to the Tana leaf effect. Those of you old enough to remember the seemingly endless Mummy movies (see the link for a nice discussion of these films, which were a childhood staple of mine) will recall that it takes the juice of six Tana leaves to keep the old boy in bandages alive and the juice of nine Tana leaves for motion! At nine Tana leaves, the mummy threatens the leading actress, but that part of the analogy doesn’t stretch into the proposal world.

Now, flash forward to 1994, shortly after we started Seliger + Associates. We got a call from a city interested in applying for UPARR. I checked and to my amazement found that the BOR had been giving six Tana leaves to UPARR for 13 years. When Clinton got elected, they went to nine Tana leaves and UPARR stalked the land once more. Even more fun was that BOR had done such a good job of hiding the program that the eligibility rules had never been updated—to apply, the city had to be on the original eligibility list from 1978, which was based on the 1970 census. Along comes G.W. Bush and BOR goes back to six Tana leaves, so UPARR is once again slumbering.

Depending the vagaries of the ’08 election, the scraping noise you hear behind you might be the UPARR Mummy creeping again, after having gotten its nine Tana leaves. Let’s hope they keep the old eligibility list, so I get to work with almost 40-year old census data again. For a real blast from the past, check out the table names for the 1970 census. Political correctness had not quite arrived.

The moral of this story is that the feds almost never completely eliminate funding programs; they just go into suspended hibernation like The Thing from Another World, yet another of my favorite childhood movies.

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