New Executive Order Protects Local Authority, Strengthens Federalism

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State-local Unity Improves Intergovernmental Partnership

Two weeks ago President Clinton signed a new executive order on federalism that greatly enhances the governing partnership between the federal government and state and local governments.

The order protects the authority of state and local governments to solve most problems where they should be solved--in home town America--without the imposition of one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington.

The executive order states, "Federalism is rooted in the belief that issues that are not national in scope or significance are most appropriately addressed by the level of government closest to the people."

How true that is.

In a statement released with the signing, President Clinton said the order 'Stall strengthen our partnership with state and local governments and ensure that executive branch agencies are able to do their work on behalf of the American people."

The new order ensures comprehensive consultations and enhanced sensitivity to the concerns of state and local governments by establishing requirements that the federal government must follow as it develops and carries out policy actions that affect state and local governments. At the same time, the order makes clear that federal action is appropriate for problems of national scope and significance.

The executive order was the result of months of hard work, cooperation, and willingness to compromise by members of the administration--particularly officials from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget--and by representatives of the national organizations that represent city, county and state officials--NLC, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, Council of State Governments, National Conference of State Legislatures, and National Governors' Association.

Both sides bargained hard but in good faith. The groups representing state and local officials stuck together throughout the negotiations to achieve an executive order that is balanced, fair, enforceable, and an improvement over existing executive orders on federalism. The White House deserves praise for its perseverance in conducting open and honest negotiations with state and local leaders until resolution on important federalism questions was achieved.

This executive order had a rocky beginning. A version issued 14 months ago was withdrawn after vocal protests by NLC and other groups. That led to a year's worth of negotiations and, finally, the issuance of an order acceptable to all parties.

It's a positive outcome for federal, state, and local governments and for the American people.

It also shows how effective the organizations representing cities, counties, and states can be when we work together on behalf of our citizens.

The executive order contains a lot of good news for local officials, as noted in the sidebar to this column. Most important, it guarantees that NLC and other organizations representing state and local governments will be notified about proposed federal rules that could preempt local authority when such rules are proposed, not alter the fact. …