When James Madison wrote of the need for "auxiliary precautions"— checks and balances—more than two centuries ago, the threat was the tyranny of one branch over the other. Today, after the decades-long accretion of power to the presidency, followed by an accumulation of "precautions" taken by Congress to check the executive, the greater threat may be managerial paralysis: the inability of the government to do its work. This has led to great concern about the government's institutional capacity to function.
As in other nations, the capacity to govern in the United States is affected by a global economy, transformations wrought by advances in information technology, a decaying social infrastructure, scarce fiscal resources, an increasing number of players in the process of governing, a much richer network of interactions among public and private organizations, and often inadequate structures and processes to develop coherent policies and programs. A major factor in whether a consensus can be reached on any agenda for improvement and whether the means can be found for carrying it out is the relationship between Congress and the president, as well as the executive branch departments and agencies he oversees. Distrust of government and skepticism toward elected officials dominate the relationship U.S. citizens have with their national government, especially the legislative and executive branches. Work is now required to repair the distrust and reverse the skepticism. Public confidence in government needs to be restored if the United States is to overcome the immense challenges that lie ahead. A first step is to renew and reform the relationship between Congress and the executive branch.
In responding to this concern, the Academy undertook a two-year study of congressional-executive relations. Beyond Distrust: Building Bridges Between Congress and the Executive, published in January 1992, was prepared by a bipartisan panel chaired by James R. Jones. The panel's charge was to recommend ways to strengthen congressional-executive working relationships in order to improve the management and implementation of programs of vital concern to the American people. According to Jones: