Developments with Intergovernmental Cooperation: A Conversation about the Obama Administration's Progress on the Intergovernmental Agenda

Article excerpt

In our article, "Now Is the Time for Collaboration," we urged the new administration to seek honest dialogue and pragmatic solutions to the most important nondefense issues facing our nation: jobs, healthcare, education, environment, and long-term economic security (retirement, Social Security, and Medicare). We pointed out that states and local governments have a vital role to play in financing the policy and developing program strategies most likely to succeed.

What progress has the Obama Administration made on the intergovernmental cooperation agenda? We had an open-ended conversation with Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, and Raymond Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors' Association, to discuss what is working--and what has not yet been addressed.

Recovery Initiative

All agreed that communication has been very good on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Troubleshooting has been done by an ad hoc group because the timeframe for implementation was compressed and all three levels of government share the risk of failure. People came together because they wanted to make the recovery package work, not because there was a formal structure for engagement. The additional transparency and intense public interest in the initiative were significant motivators to come together to address implementation issues.

Vice President Biden has had weekly meetings with governors and mayors. Both the vice president and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have worked with their intergovernmental partners in good faith. "The cooperation on the ARRA personifies what we need," observed Borut. "We have regular, two-way communication about the issues and our federal partners are not defensive."

Scheppach added, "The administration has made changes as we have raised issues. For example, they have made changes in the way that they are aggregating data and have given us more time to clean up the data. They have listened."

The ARRA has been a good model because state and local governments were chosen to implement the initiative through existing programs. "Another plus is that the U.S. Government Account-ability Office (GAO) has been out in the field, checking with 16 states on their experience at the front end of the process," said Scheppach. "The GAO has been included in discussions with the OMB, some-thing that happened almost organically."

Borut added, "Having knowledge of how state and local governments operate was important because there were not enough resources to carry out the administrative responsibilities required for the program." Once GAO made those points clear, Congress adjusted the grant guidelines.

There are many positive developments regarding the process of engagement, but experts and pundits alike can be expected to criticize all levels of government once the October 2009 reports are analyzed. Certainly, good progress has been made in building a framework for reporting, though the quality of the reports rightfully can be questioned.

Healthcare Reform

Healthcare reform looms as an even greater inter-governmental challenge. It is a huge legislative bill with significant potential intergovernmental implications. Because it is the president's signature issue, politics tend to overwhelm many other considerations. States and the federal government share the costs of Medicaid, for example, so depending on how that program is altered or expanded, there could be cost shifts to state governments. …