IN AUGUST 1974, President Gerald R. Ford signed a bill establishing the community development block grant (CDBG) program, which consolidated a number of separate urban categorical grant programs and distributed the funds by formula. Block grants were part of the New Federalism advocated by President Richard M. Nixon as a way of giving state and local officials more discretion in the use of intergovernmental aid. Although this form of decentralization received wide support, its consequences were difficult to foresee. With support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a study group drawn from the Brookings Governmental Studies staff set up a network of field associates in sixty-one communities across the nation to assess the CDBG program. Brookings research extended through the sixth year ( 1980) of the program and resulted in four reports.
Decentralization has been emphasized again in President Ronald Reagan's proposals to convert additional kinds of federal aid into block grants. The CDBG experience reviewed in this book describes the problems faced by communities shifting from the rather rigid categorical grant system to more flexible block grants. Five case studies prepared by field associates constitute the core of the book. In the chapters preceding and following the case studies, Paul R. Dommel explains the background of the block grant program, summarizes its effects on local decisionmaking in community development, explains the political factors that make decentralization "a moving target," and speculates about the program's future. He combines the findings of the case studies with those of the Brookings field research project to show that although decentralized decisionmaking did indeed foster local diversity, many communities faced procedural and substantive difficulties in implementing the CDBG program.
Dommel, a senior fellow in the Brookings Governmental Studies program, joined the research team as the field associate for Worcester,