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Intergovernmental Partnerships:

Success Against the Odds

by Lora Engdahl

In the spring of 1998, the Florida Commission on Government Accountability reported that the state addressed juvenile crime through "a fragmented array of nearly 200 activities spread across 23 state entities." The commissionís report continued:

"Juvenile crime reduction has become everybodyís business but no oneís responsibility. No one agency, no one governorís policy unit, no one legislative committee oversees the stateís juvenile crime-fighting operations . . . . Accountability for results faces obstacles of dispersed authority, lack of shared goals and a failure to measure common outcomes."

"Florida spent $1.245 billion in 1997 for prevention and has no measurable results for $473 million of those dollars."

The Juvenile Justice Accountability Board, a legislative agency, proposed creating a cabinet-level department to pool funding streams and coordinate the stateís myriad juvenile justice efforts, but the proposal failed to generate much interest in the state legislature. For now itís business as usual.

As Floridaís experience shows, the drive toward accountability produces recognition that governments need to work across political and geographic boundaries because public problems cross those boundaries. Most observers agree that governance requires intergovernmental partnerships, yet such partnerships ó if they make it beyond the idea stage ó are much more likely to fail than their counterparts in the private sector, report researchers at Harvard University. Why, and what can be done about it, is the subject of a growing body of research at Harvard and elsewhere. While some barriers match expectations, there are some surprises.

Hard to Handle

Intergovernmental collaboration could include agencies of the same level of government (such as state agencies), federal agencies and state agencies, local governments in the same region ó and the infinite variations in between. With about 3,300 county governments, 3,700 city governments, 50 state governments and the federal governmentís more than 100 agencies and departments, the universe of possible partnership is infinite. Further, partnerships differ from one policy area to another.

One place where researchers seem to be looking at the broad category of intergovernmental partnerships per se is that place where intergovernmental efforts and information technology (IT) intersect. Many intergovernmental efforts involve technology for it is IT that allows agencies to share information and make programs and services "seamless" in the citizenís eyes. Indeed, it is citizen impatience with stovepipe governments that is driving much of the activity.

Partnerships are most prevalent in areas where "both the supply side and the demand side is high," says Jerry Mechling, director of the Program on Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector at Harvardís Kennedy School of Government.

One such area is policing, dating back to Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grants two decades ago. These grants made policing at the local level the most computerized function and made foundation-setting experimentation possible. On the demand side, "crime shapes itself around the economy and economies are now multi-jurisdictional," says Mechling. "Criminals go where the money is and the government needs to follow."

Current federal funding is helping spur statewide criminal justice initiatives such as the just-underway $10 million Kansas Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS), a partnership among state and local governments to create an integrated Internet-based system that includes a criminal history system, juvenile justice information system, incident-based reporting, automated fingerprint identification system and automated statewide telecommunications and record assessment. Eighty percent of the funds come from the feds through the National Crime History Improvement Program and Bryne funds. A special appropriation administered by the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance Office, is also helping create the North Carolina Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN), established by legislation in 1996 and run by a board that will hire an executive director in 1999. The system will allow statewide information sharing, electronic fingerprinting, statewide coverage for mobile data terminals in law enforcement vehicles and other capabilities. Jointly purchasing equipment such as fingerprinting systems for the partners has already produced cost savings of $750,000.

Another area of activity is in human services, with welfare reform creating an impetus in the demand (though the federal government is not funding significant R&D into computer systems), says Mechling.

A third area of high activity is in general citizen information services, driven too by high demand and the payoff for governments from such highly visible customer service initiatives.

Lessons Learned ó Barriers

Lessons learned from studying IT-related intergovernmental partnerships are relevant to intergovernmental partnerships in general, suggests Mechling.

The Kennedy School of Government produced Standing in the Way of Tomorrow, a two-part report on barriers to partnerships for the Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel (IEP), an entity established as a subcommittee of the federal Government Information Technology Services Board (GITSB)

IEP also commissioned studies on the barriers to intergovernmental collaboration from the National Governorsí Association and Public Technology, Inc., (PTI). Not surprisingly, one problem identified in the PTI study and also emphasized by other researchers is the compatibility issue. Government entities that collaborate need to be able to communicate. But because agencies and programs have their own funding sources and budgets, they develop isolated communications systems that canít communicate.

But the problem isnít in the hardware or software itself. Growing use of Internet and Intranet technologies and other platform-neutral data protocols are starting to bypass the need for shared protocols. When the ECLIPS (Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems) program of the Ohio Supercomputer Center studied barriers to interoperable systems, interviewees "repeatedly identified hardware and software problems of sharing data as modest when compared to such problems as identifying opportunities for sharing, aligning data definitions and providing political and economic incentives for the sharing of information."

In fact, technology compatibility was not among the top four barriers Harvard identified, which were: 1) funding constraints, 2) lack of trust and cultural conflicts between jurisdictions, 3) resistance to collaboration (skepticism) and 4) lack of political empowerment.

All of these barriers have confronted Clackamas County and its partners in the Oregon Pathways project, featured in the Harvard reports and in Intergovernmental Solutions, an online newsletter produced by the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions (OIS), a federal department that tracks global trends in government technology. Oregon Pathways is a built-from-scratch service intended to eventually allow human service clients to get the same kind of eligibility screening and case management regardless of the agency they have contacted.

When Clackamas County Department of Human Services Director Jono Hildner explored the idea in 1994, he found little in the way of prototypes because "when push came to shove, agencies could not get past their turf battles to do true sharing.

"Turf," explains Hildner, is first a question of lack of trust, a fear that other agencies wonít protect client confidentiality (which he actually views as an excuse) and more:

"If Joe Smith walks into a welfare office and the welfare office makes an eligibility determination and he then goes to the mental health office, the mental health office has to go through the process from the beginning because they canít trust that the person at the welfare office really did the job right," says Hildner.

Turf is second a question of who is in charge: "Who will be in charge? It needs to be my agency because I donít want to pay your agency to run a system that I am just part of with my hard fought for dollars," he adds.

Clackamas got around those barriers through "the good faith of partners who had worked a little while together who said enough is enough," Hildner explains. Those partners were Hildner, the regional manager for the state welfare office (the Department of Adult and Family Services) and the chief information officer for the state Department of Human Resources.

The Department of Human Resources provided a $20,000 grant, matched by $20,000 in local resources, which was just enough to hire a program manager and solicit ideas from top executives with the county and state agencies involved in assisting self-sufficiency. A process facilitator helped this design team build trust and agree on a set of values to guide its activities.

Despite their success building a good working relationship, the group soon butted up against the funding barrier. The projectís major source of funds, the U.S. Department of Laborís One Stop initiative, is limiting, says Hildner.

"The Department of Labor doesnít want its one-stop money spent on anything that doesnít directly tie to training and placement of underemployed adults," says Hildner. "For example the one-stop thing doesnít deal with child abuse and yet we know that is a critical part of serving people out there; so weíre having to scam a little bit.

"Funding continues to be a barrier," adds Hildner. "We have all these funding silos. There is just no money that comes down to create these kinds of intergovernmental partnerships. So Oregon Pathways has been built the way they built cathedrals in Europe ó wait until you scrape together enough money to do one more wall and do it wall by wall."

The project has developed an automated information and referral system that allows participating agencies to update their own data through Internet access. The next phase is to bring up the integrated eligibility tool. The slow pace of progress has worn the resolve of participants whoíve given a lot of time to the project, says Hildner, who has remained involved in the project since leaving the county government last year. But he remains optimistic and the Harvard researchers give the program high marks for establishing the trust and authority critical to intergovernmental success.

Funding Solutions

Stovepipe federal funding (specific restrictions on the use of administrative funds associated with categorical federal programs) is one of the major funding barriers to intergovernmental partnerships. While individual federal programs such as the Office of Juvenile Justiceís Comprehensive Strategy (which funds collaborations among a communityís various law enforcement, social service, health and education agencies) may fund pilot intergovernmental initiatives, for the most part, itís hard to use existing federal funding for intergovernmental initiatives.

"In the vice presidentís office there is a huge interest in making changes, but I donít think anybody in the federal government outside of the vice presidentís office is doing anything without being forced," says Hildner, explaining that he and a dozen or so peers around the country are talking with officials at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) about ways to create greater flexibility with administrative funds for children and families.

Bradley Dugger, chief of information systems for the state of Tennessee and past president of the National Association of State Information Resources Executives (NASIRE) says the trade group has been looking at the stovepipe funding issue as well, alone and through the Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel (a group whose future is uncertain). One idea bandied about is to move away from funding the technology ("which produces horrible accounting nightmares") to funding the function. While individuals are discussing ideas with NPR, the issue has recently taken a back seat to Y2K concerns.

Governance and budget processes are also an issue at the state level. When the state of California began working on an integrated justice system, it found "more than turf wars between competing bureaucracies," writes J. Clark Kelso in the May 1998 issue of Sacramento Lawyer. Kelso cites the stateís trial courts. The state had approximately 100 separate trial courts which were funded primarily by county budgets, many of which were connected to county administrative systems. "With funding sources so dispersed and governance split between the local and state level, coordinated technology planning was simply not feasible." It took years and a concerted campaign by the governor, the state chief justice, the executive director of the California State Association of Counties and others to change things so that trial courts now receive funds from the state.

To help combat both federal and state stovepipe funding, a growing number of state and local governments are using capital budgets for technology, multi-year funding and other means to address the funding issue (See "Exceptions to Stovepipe Funding," below).

Still, using existing funding is difficult and, "because of the conflict and confusion surrounding projects that have no clear lines of authority and accountability, securing new authorization and appropriations for intergovernmental projects can be very problematic," reports Harvard.

Financial challenges and other complexities prompt students of intergovernmental efforts to suggest, where possible, creating new organizations charged with cross-agency responsibilities.

"Avoid budget battles and turf wars by creating a separate budget for the joint enterprise and make the interagency group responsible for the budget," advises Sally Mathews of the U.S. General Services Administration in a review of a partnership among federal, state and local government agencies in Florida to digitize a statewide base map accessible to all government agencies. The Florida mapping project was one of 18 intergovernmental case studies described in Foundations for Successful Intergovernmental Management, a report produced by the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions and the Intergovernmental Advisory Board (IAB) in November 1998. (IAB is a network of federal, state and local IT leaders operating under the auspices of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils.)

Another barrier potentially overcome by creating a new organization? Burnout. One of the problems with intergovernmental partnerships is that they are often run by volunteers, the report explains. As the Clackamas examples show, volunteers who also retain their usual duties can start running out of steam. Itís hard to keep the momentum going.

But setting up a new entity is not always possible. At the very least, intergovernmental relationships "need structure early on to resolve issues of policymaking, funding and staffing," Mathews concludes.

Because momentum is so critical, she also recommends responding to participantsí eagerness to see results by sharing successes as the initiative progresses ó and to look for early warnings of problems or miscues.

Risk and Leadership

In 1997, a $40 million California correctional agency initiative to integrate inmate records failed. Frighteningly visible failures, like this, make public managers averse to large-scale, complex technology initiatives, reports the National Governorsí Association (NGA), which surveyed 32 states on the barriers to intergovernmental coordination. In addition to proprietary systems and data protocols, lack of pooled funds for intergovernmental or interagency initiatives, outdated laws and regulations, and lack of process reengineering, NGAís study identifies risk aversion as one of the five major barriers to intergovernmental cooperation. Sharing risks and benefits is one of the essential prerequisites for intergovernmental partnerships, reports the NGA. Often itís difficult to get projects off the ground because the risks, particularly in initiatives involving information technology, are so high.

The high risks of projects and the other barriers translate into one essential must-have for intergovernmental initiatives: leadership. One reason intergovernmental programs are blossoming in the information technology area is that "an eclectic mix and critical mass of leadership is emerging," says Harvardís Mechling. Often-cited leaders include Bill Kilmartin, controller for the state of Massachusetts; Steve Kolodny, CIO for the state of Washington; and a group of CIOs from the city of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Transit Agency and the Los Angeles Unified School District who formed the CIO Summit. The Summit cooperates on networking and telecommunications infrastructure projects to cut government costs and enhance the regionís competitiveness (see the February 1998 and October 1998 issues of Government Technology).

Clearly, intergovernmental management will be one of the major challenges facing government managers for at least the next decade. Groups like OIS and IAB are seeking to deepen understanding of intergovernmental management by bringing the leaders together and building a network of intergovernmental program managers.

There are also efforts underway to foster more cross-boundary coordination by building what Kilmartin calls frameworks of communication whereby people meet who would not otherwise cross paths. For example, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Association of State Purchasing Officials and the National Association of State Information Resource Executives have formed a new joint networking group.

Kilmartin has spearheaded several major intergovernmental technology partnerships, including a seven-state coalition to build an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system to process welfare benefits and a multi-state electronic procurement mall, which cuts procurement costs by raising the number of vendors competing for business.

Kilmartin says he overcomes the ingrained parochialism of potential partners by "appealing to the enlightened self-interest of all stakeholders and explaining why the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts."

"Legislative elected officials need to have the ëCome to Jesus event,í" adds Kilmartin, who describes his role as part education, communication and evangelizing. "EBT was an agenda setter or launch pad to other initiatives because it has a 33ñ75 percent costs savings associated with it. From the stakeholder point of view, the ëcompelling value proposalí was ëwould you like to reduce cost and reduce fraud and destigmatize welfare benefits, and by the way if we do it with partners, the cost goes down from $2.60 a transaction to $1.90 a transaction.í"

While political leadership is crucial to intergovernmental success, "in the future, a way is needed to put managerial structures and long term programs into place that are not subject to changes in political leadership," Mathews of GSA cautions. "Political leaders come and go while intergovernmental issues take some time to resolve."

State and Local Funding Solutions

Some state and local governments have programs that are or could be used to overcome limitations of program-specific funding for intergovernmental information technology (IT) initiatives. For example, many states are looking at funding IT investments through bond financing in the manner that currently supports other fixed capital projects (such as capital budgets for fixed assets like buildings). Specific initiatives include:

ï Tennessee has a capital funds pool that agency managers with viable business plans are able to tap; its biggest project to date is a $30 million child support enforcement partnership among county level court clerks and the federal government. For more information contact Bradley Dugger, 615-741-2569.

ï Marylandís Technology Investment Fund, created in 1996 by General Assembly legislation, provides resources for technology projects to improve efficiencies and expand services. For more information contact Lou Laricci, 410-767-4202.

ï The state of Massachusetts is using multiple sources of funding for information technology projects. One is the Information Technology Bond, a tool that has funded automation projects and is likely to fund more intergovernmental projects such as public safety improvements, says Massachusetts Comptroller William Kilmartin. For more information contact Kilmartin at 617-727-5000.

ï David Moon, chief information officer for the state of Utah has recommended establishing a statewide IT Investment Review Board that would consider requests for large IT investments or those that impact multiple agencies. This would give the state a structure for evaluating and funding intergovernmental partnerships. Moon can be reached at 801-538-3000, Web site:

ï Wisconsin has an IT investment fund, created in 1995 out of fees vendors pay to subscribe to an Internet service that connects them to state purchasers. Bruce Reines, director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Technology Policy and Planning, says managers with an intergovernmental idea could tap the fund. Reines can be reached at 608-266-8878,

ï The city of Philadelphiaís Productivity Bank, established in 1992 from a capital base of $20 million derived from a bond issue, funds productivity improvement projects. For more information contact Matt Gallagher at 215-686-2150. ï

Information on the Georgia, Maryland, Philadelphia and Massachusetts programs comes from a recent report, Innovative Funding Approaches, issued by the Intergovernmental Advisory Board and the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions.

Exceptions to Federal Stovepipe Funding

While federal funding for the most part does not enable intergovernmental initiatives, there are of course exceptions. Here are just a few examples:

ï The U.S. Department of Commerceís Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program funds cross-organizational projects and many of those are intergovernmental.

ï The U.S. Department of Justice financed the development of six Regional Information Sharing Systems designed to support federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts to combat criminal activity across jurisdictional boundaries. The six systems are centered in Franklin, Mass.; Philadelphia, Pa., Nashville, Tenn., Phoenix, Ariz., Sacramento, Calif., and Springfield, Mo. Justice just got $4.3 million to expand the project.

ï The U.S. Department of Justice is also spearheading a nationwide effort to coordinate the use of justice technologies among federal, state and local agencies. As a part of this, Paul Kendall of the Office of Justice Programs, which provides billions of dollars of grants and funding to state and local justice agencies, is working with state and local governments to make sure that those who receive federal grants for justice technology invest in systems that can talk to one another. For more information contact Paul Kendall, Office of Justice Programs, 202-307-0790,


Martha Dorris, General Services Administrationís Office of Intergovernmental Solutions, 202-501-0225,; Intergovernmental Solutions newsletter; Bradley Dugger, chief of information systems, state of Tennessee, 615-741-2569; Kathy Ebel, acting administrative support for IEP, 202-273-8060; Jono Hildner, consultant, 503-657-0081, e-mail:; William Kilmartin, Massachusetts comptroller, 617-727-5000; Jerry Mechling, Harvard University, 617-495-3036, e-mail:; Toni Tendam, North Carolina Criminal Justice Information Network, e-mail:; Public Technology Inc., 202-626-2400,; Florida Juvenile Justice Accountability Board, 850-922-4377.

Copyright(C) 1998, The New Public Innovator magazine, published by the Alliance for Redesigning Government. Reprinted with permission. For subscriptions and Alliance membership information, contact the Alliance at 202-347-3190.

About the Author:

Lora Engdahl is the editor of The New Public Innovator. You may reach her at (202) 347-3190 or