Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Rise and Fall of Interagency Cooperation: The U.S. Global Change Research Program

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Rise and Fall of Interagency Cooperation: The U.S. Global Change Research Program

Article excerpt

Harold Seidman has called interagency committees "the crabgrass in the garden of government." They are universally condemned, but efforts to extirpate them seldom succeed, for new committees grow in their place. This is because alternatives generally are worse, and there is a compelling need to coordinate programs that sprawl across many agencies. An example of an interagency committee that "worked," at least for a period, is the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, charged with coordinating the multibillion dollar Global Change Research Program. Born under Reagan, the committee rose to prominence under Bush, being cited as an exemplary model for other interagency programs. Under Clinton, it was used as a prototype again, even as it declined in influence. The evolution of the committee illuminates the key factors that strengthen and weaken interagency cooperation in government.

In a time when reinvention is in vogue and public administrators are asked to seek efficiency and become more effective, it is instructive to understand examples of attempts to innovate institutionally in government. Who influences institutional innovation in public policy and administration, and how? What are the consequences of such administrative entrepreneurship? Under what conditions do institutional innovators succeed or fail?

Lessons can be learned from the attempt to manage the U.S. Global Change Research Program. This program, which studies such environmental issues as global warming, deforestation, and ozone depletion, did not exist in 1987. By 1995 its budget stood at $1.8 billion. It is the prime example of environmental megascience, complicated by being interagency science also. Born during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the program grew substantially in the era of George Bush and has continued under Bill Clinton. Involving at one time or another as many as 18 departments and agencies, the program was at one point hailed as the model interagency science program. It became so celebrated that Bush's science advisor, D. Allan Bromley, used it as a basis for other interagency strategic science programs, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government featured it in two case studies (Kennedy, 1992a, 1992b).

Behind the Global Change Research Program was an interagency committee initially called under Reagan the Committee on Earth Sciences. It became the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences during the Bush years, and then the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources under Clinton. For many years, the global change interagency management system worked -- or was widely perceived to work. The committee used multiagency planning, cross-budgeting, joint project solicitations, and cofunding. It filled research gaps among agencies in the context of national priorities so that the program was more than the sum of individual agency interests.

These innovative practices belied the conventional wisdom of public administration, as expressed by Seidman (1975, 197), that interagency committees are "the crabgrass in the garden of government". In the Clinton period, however, coordination faltered, and such diverse observers as the Republican Congress, National Academy of Sciences, and some of the committee's leading members commented on its decline. It is important to explain the evolution of this unusual institutional model. Its fate reveals lessons of broad relevance for the management of interagency science, Indeed, interagency programs in general.

The dilemma illuminated by the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is that there is little recourse but to use interagency committees for purposes of coordination when programs overlap, as they so often do. As Seidman (1975) pointed out, such entities may be condemned, but efforts to extirpate them seldom work, for new committees grow in their place. Alternatives to interagency committees, such as the creation of all-embracing superagencies or the appointment of a czar, may mitigate certain problems but usually create others. …

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