US lawmakers champion public sector collaboration panel

By on 12/08/2019
The current bill isn’t the first time Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, has proposed legislation to improve cooperation between all levels of government. (Image courtesy: Cliff/Flickr).

A commission designed to foster cooperation between US state, federal and local governments, based on an agency that has been defunct for more than 20 years, has been proposed by bipartisan lawmakers.

The Restore the Partnership Act, introduced by Representatives Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, and Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, would, they said, “reconstitute and reform” the US Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an independent government agency which was disbanded in 1996.  

The proposals come after several hearings on the potential to restore the commission – held by the Speaker’s Task Force for International Affairs, a panel of House members led by Connolly and Bishop – took place between June 2017 and late last year.

“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.  

Connolly, who has unsuccessfully proposed similar legislation in the past, said, as reported by Route Fifty: “Only with earned trust and open channels of communication can all governments in the United States truly work together to reduce overlap and actually do the business of improving people’s lives”.

Bishop added that the solutions to the nation’s problems are found in the “creativity of state, local, and tribal governments, all of whom are closer to the people than Washington bureaucrats”.

Cooperatively, efficiently and effectively

The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations was formed in 1959 to “strengthen the American federal system and improve the ability of federal, state and local governments to work together cooperatively, efficiently and effectively”. It had 26 members, including representatives of the White House, congressional lawmakers, governors, state legislators, mayors and county officials.

It is proposed the new commission would comprise 31 members. These would include three executive branch officials; three members of the public with knowledge of government, appointed by the president; four state legislative officials; four mayors; four county officials; one town elected official; and two representing American Indian tribes. The Senate majority leader and the House speaker would each appoint three representatives. 

Some of the members would be chosen from shortlists drawn up by organisations such as the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and National Association of Counties.

There would be a limit to how many commission members could be from one political party or state, and members would be from both large and small jurisdictions.

Lack of public trust

As reported by Government Executive, a number of witnesses heard by the Task Force for International Affairs raised concerns about the lack of public trust in institutions 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 critical areas such as the opioid crisis, emergency management, election security and public land management. 

The new commission would act as a forum for discussing common problems across all levels of government, and the options for improving federal grant programs, regulations and tax policies. It would also identify the impacts of US Supreme Court rulings on state, tribal and local governments. The bill emphasises that one of the group’s priorities would be to provide governments with a pathway towards greater flexibility and discretion in implementing federal policies.  

Under the legislation, executive branch agencies and departments would have to furnish the commission with information upon receiving requests from the panel’s chairman or vice chairman.

The group could offer advice to the executive branch and Congress on improving federal agency operations and, under the terms of the bill, congressional lawmakers would have to hold hearings on recommendations from the commission within 90 days of receiving the latter’s annual report.

Supporters and detractors

The legislation is endorsed by the ‘Big Seven’ group of nonpartisan state and local non-profit organisations, including the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.

However, it has its opponents. For example, Representative Ralph Norman expressed concern about what the new commission would achieve and how it would be funded, commenting: “I don’t see the teeth in it, I see just another meeting to have a meeting.” If it were formed, he said, Congress should require a specific timeframe to measure its success.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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