Lawmakers want to improve intergovernmental coordination on a host of issues, including emergency management. Above, Mexico Beach, Florida, in October 2018 after Hurricane Michael swept through.

Lawmakers want to improve intergovernmental coordination on a host of issues, including emergency management. Above, Mexico Beach, Florida, in October 2018 after Hurricane Michael swept through. Terry Kelly / Shutterstock.com

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Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Improve Federal-State-Local Coordination

Bipartisan bill would create an updated version of a former intergovernmental commission.

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, on Tuesday introduced legislation aimed at improving the relationships between federal, state and local governments by bringing back an evolved version of an intergovernmental commission to enhance coordination and accountability. 

“Restoring the Partnership Act” (H.R. 3883) would establish a commission, based on what was formerly known as the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an independent, bipartisan government agency that existed from 1959-1996. “In order to facilitate the fullest cooperation, coordination, and mutual accountability among all levels of government and thus better serve the American people in an increasingly complex society, it is essential that a commission be established to give continuing attention to federalism and intergovernmental issues,” the bill says.  

The bipartisan commission would have 31 members who would serve two-year terms with the possibility of reappointment. The president would appoint three executive branch officials, three private citizens with knowledge of government, four governors, four state legislative officials, four mayors, four county officials, one town elected official and two tribal officials. The Senate majority leader would appoint three senators and the House speaker would appoint three representatives. 

Under the legislation, the commission would differ from the original ACIR in a number of ways: It would include town and tribal members and take responsibility for examining how Supreme Court decisions affect intergovernmental relations. It also would require Congress to hold hearings to examine the commission’s annual report within 90 days of submission and require the commission to get written responses from agencies on its recommendations. 

Bishop, one of the witnesses at the government operations panel hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired the Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, which led to the bill. “The Bible says you can’t serve two masters and the founders of our Constitution insisted that we do exactly that with our concept of dual sovereignty,” Bishop said. 

A number of witnesses spoke about the lack of public trust in institutions today and the difficulty of coordinating intergovernmental policy. “With emerging issues such as cyber-security, artificial intelligence and advanced automation, we need a neutral forum for elected policymakers from all levels of government to focus on a shared purpose,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties. He cited the need for better coordination in such critical areas as the opioid crisis, emergency management, election security and public land management. 

President of the National Academy of Public Administration Teresa Gerton said that goals in the 2018 Presidential Management Agenda, such as data integration and grant accountability, will “require collaboration and integration with state, local and tribal governments and will offer prime opportunities to expand intergovernmental partnerships.”  

Dr. Carl Stenberg, professor at the University of North Carolina and ACIR member for 16 years, said a revived commission was just one step in “establishing solid intergovernmental common ground and finding ways to convene and collaborate on that work.” He cited the earlier commission’s work on President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative and President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s block grant proposals as evidence of the value such a group can bring to societal challenges. 

Several Republicans on the committee expressed concern about the cost and the size of the federal government. 

“We keep gobbling up more and more authority to where we think that those of us up here in Congress think we’re supposed to take care of everybody’s problems in the entire nation, all the states’ problems, local problems, individual problems,” said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. “We’ve become the daddy figure of everyone.” 

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said that if the commission is established, Congress should require a specific time frame to measure the results. “I don’t see the teeth in it. I see just another meeting to have a meeting. I don’t see how in the world you're going to justify your funding,” Norman said. 

The legislation was endorsed by the “Big Seven” group of nonpartisan state and local nonprofit organizations: the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the United States Conference of Mayors. 

Image via Terry Kelly/Shutterstock.com.