Intergovernmental Service Delivery

Recommendations and Actions


Strengthen the Intergovernmental Partnership


To develop a seamless and high quality system of public services for the 21st century, the federal, state, and local governments must work together in fundamentally more effective ways than has historically been the case.

Even though the institutional support historically provided at the federal level for intergovernmental collaboration has been less than perfect, it has been even further eroded during the past decade. Intergovernmental offices in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Accounting Office (GAO) were cut significantly. Funding and political support for the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has been radically reduced, and its credibility and quality of objective analysis undermined. Congressional governmental operations committees have moved their focus away from complicated and often contentious intergovernmental issues, while the Executive Office of the President and departmental intergovernmental relations staff have, in recent years, increasingly turned their attention to constituent service issues, rather than substantive intergovernmental policy--let alone service delivery or problem-solving concerns.[Endnote 1]

Need for Change

The decline of intergovernmental institutional support systems has resulted in a sense among state and local officials that the federal government is unconcerned about the intergovernmental effects of its decisions. This is reflected in the decreased communication and lack of effective input into federal decisionmaking in both the executive and legislative branches.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) was a prestigious and heavily used advisory institution, producing numerous analytical reports on the intergovernmental impact of federal policy. The intergovernmental forum that ACIR initiated was eventually strengthened with the establishment of intergovernmental offices in OMB and GAO.

In recent years, ACIR has lost stature, influence, and resources. For example, in 1986, the House Appropriations Committee reduced ACIR's budget by 53 percent. And, in the past five years, ACIR has not had a quorum at more than one quarter of its meetings.

Some have argued that ACIR should be allowed to die a peaceful death. Yet, when you examine the law originally creating ACIR, its mission and purpose seem directly relevant to today's critical issues of intergovernmental service delivery, problem solving, and effective performance. The original charter sought to:

--bring together representatives of the federal, state, and local governments for consideration of common problems;

--provide a forum for discussing the administration and coordination of federal grant and other programs requiring intergovernmental cooperation;

--give critical attention to the conditions and controls in the administration of federal grant programs;

--make available technical assistance to the executive and legislative branches of the federal government in the review of legislation to determine its overall impact on the federal system;

--encourage discussion and study at an early stage of emerging public problems that are likely to require intergovernmental cooperation;

--recommend the most desirable allocation of governmental functions, responsibilities, and revenues among the several levels; and

--recommend methods of coordinating and simplifying tax laws and administrative practices to achieve a more orderly and less competitive fiscal relationship between the levels of government and to reduce the burden of compliance on taxpayers.

Under the charter, ACIR's membership is bi-partisan, with elected and appointed officials from the federal, state, and local levels, as well as citizen members. The members are appointed by the President, Speaker of the House, or President of the Senate. While all of the vacancies for the current two-year membership have been nominated or filled, they have not been selected in a coordinated or focused process.


1. Reinvent the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) and charge it with responsibility for continuous improvement in federal, state, and local partnership and intergovernmental service delivery. (2)

ACIR has a relevant charter, a framework for true intergovernmental collaboration, and the potential for continuous improvement and performance measurement of the intergovernmental partnership. The institution does not need to be abandoned; it should be reinvented to provide an ongoing vehicle for bipartisan intergovernmental policy debate and research.

Its mission needs to be more clearly focused on performance measurement, long-term improvements in intergovernmental grantmaking and regulation, and assessing intergovernmental fiscal impact. The President should work closely with the Speaker of the House, the Vice President, and representatives of the organizations that have traditionally nominated the membership (National Governors' Association, National League of Cities, etc.) to collaborate in identifying a slate of candidates for the next full-year term (FY 1994) who are unequivocally committed to service delivery improvement and management reform. Citizen members should be drawn from both the private and private non-profit sectors. Elected and appointed members should be officials with a demonstrated commitment to innovation and cost-effective delivery of public services. Congressional members should have a demonstrated interest in government performance and accountability, as well as a commitment to legislative reform and modernization.

A strong staff with extensive federal and/or state and local experience should be recruited and should-- from inception--work very closely with the Cabinet- level Enterprise Board (discussed earlier) on issues of mutual interest. A reinvented ACIR could become the honest broker among and between competing and sometimes conflicting state and local interest, and competing or uncoordinated federal executive and legislative agencies. Its primary approach should be one of facilitation, supported by high caliber research and policy analysis as well as broad executive and legislative outreach.

In the next five years, a reinvented ACIR should design broader solutions to the grant proliferation problem and--in cooperation with strong existing bodies like the National Academy of Public Administration--accumulate evidence of best practices in the public sector and ensure their dissemination to policymakers and managers alike.

Finally, ACIR should be encouraged to establish task forces and provide opportunities for a wide range of federal, state, and local elected and appointed officials to offer policy advice, service delivery ideas, and participate directly in the activities of the Commission.

2. Develop appropriate benchmarks and performance measures to improve the understanding of public service delivery effectiveness. (2)

The President should direct the Cabinet-level Enterprise Board and/or request ACIR to provide leadership in developing a systematic process to define and measure national benchmarks. States and localities that have not already done so should be encouraged to initiate such efforts. Such benchmarks, performance, and outcome measures should be incorporated into federal budget practices as a part of the effective implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, recently signed into law by the President.

Several actions can help move the nation in this direction. Development of national economic and social benchmarks can give all levels of government a clear framework for policy choice and priority setting. A focus on citizen-customers of federal programs can help government to rethink and redesign more effective intergovernmental program solutions. And better, more programmatic systems for budget planning and implementation can help to reinforce the outcome focus in intergovernmental collaboration.

3. Convene meetings which draw together leaders from federal, state, and local governments to review, refine, and advance the intergovernmental recommendations of the National Performance Review. (2)

This report envisions a transformation of federal and intergovernmental service delivery. To implement the concepts outlined here will require concerted bipartisan effort over a decade or more. This effort won't happen easily. And it won't happen at all without an understanding and commitment to the reforms at all levels of government.

In August 1993, the Vice President presented a preliminary version of these recommendations to state and local elected and appointed leadership attending the 1993 National Governors' Association Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was great interest in, and support for, the general direction of these recommendations. Participants suggested that the President convene a meeting as soon as possible to review these concepts, to develop specific legislative recommendations, and to determine the steps necessary to move forward quickly.

Meetings should include representation from Congress, the cabinet, other senior federal officials, and chief executives and legislative leaders from state, county, and local general and special purpose governments throughout the country.


1. Stever, James A., "The Growth and Decline of Executive-Centered Intergovernmental Management," Publius, Vol. 23 (Winter 1993), pp. 71_84.

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