Building an Intergovernmental System for the Future

Feb 26, 2018





In the United States, most domestic policies and programs are implemented through the intergovernmental system, integrating federal, state, and local governments. Today, every level of government faces fiscal challenges that significantly limit policy options in the near term. For programs or policies that are federally funded, the overarching dilemma is how to provide sufficient flexibility to meet state and local goals while preserving appropriate accountability for the use of federal funds.

The relationships among our levels of government have become more horizontal and intersectoral and, at the same time, increasingly fractious and contentious. Given these challenges, examining ways to improve the operations of our intergovernmental system is a timely undertaking. A wide range of issues must be addressed if our intergovernmental system is to function more efficiently and effectively.

Congress has recognized the importance of restoring positive and collaborative intergovernmental relationships. House Speaker Ryan and Democratic Leader Pelosi last year stood up the Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, a bipartisan group of lawmakers focused on balancing the interests between federal, state, tribal, and local governments. The National Academy of Public Administration was asked to participate on the Advisory Council to the Task Force, and our Standing Panel on Intergovernmental Systems is supporting that effort.

The Intergovernmental Systems Panel identified four primary policy proposals and outcomes needed to enhance the future of intergovernmental affairs in America.

  1. The Need for Comprehensive National Solutions;
  2. The Need for Cross-Government and Cross-Sector Collaboration;
  3. The Need for Administrative Simplification and Accountability;
  4. The Need for Data-driven Decision Making.

As our Standing Panel continues their work they will address questions like:

  1. What are the key intergovernmental challenges that need to be addressed?
  2. What are the current barriers to effective consultation and collaboration at both the enterprise and program levels within and across levels of government? What policy, procedural, or institutional changes might best reduce those barriers?
  3. How might needed institutional capacity be managed and funded?   

Recently, the panel members prepared several papers on intergovernmental issues as input for the structural and procedural issues the Task Force is considering. These include:

Mending Our Safety Net: Building Our Workforce by Joe Wholey.

Managing Across Boundaries: Strengthening Partnerships with State and Local Governments by Barry Van Lare.

The U.S. Emergency Management System: The Need for Intergovernmental Cooperation by Kay Goss.

There is no shortage of frustration with, and concern about, the dysfunction of many aspects of our government. We agree that the goal of the Speaker’s Task Force to “restore the proper balance of power between the federal government and states, tribal, and local governments, and eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens facing communities across the nation” is an essential aspect of improving government operations. We look forward to working with the Task Force to identify specific actions that can help restore transparency, trust, and effectiveness to our intergovernmental system.

To read more about how our Standing Panel on Intergovernmental Systems is working to advance these issues, access the full list of whitepapers here.

Terry Gerton is the President and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration.

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