Academics in Service to the Legislature: Legislative Utilization of College and University Faculty and Staff

By Hy, Ronald John; Venhaus, Monte et al. | Public Administration Review, September-October 1995 | Go to article overview

Academics in Service to the Legislature: Legislative Utilization of College and University Faculty and Staff


Hy, Ronald John, Venhaus, Monte, Sims, Richard G., Public Administration Review


The Importance of Research to Legislatures

Prior to the 1950s, most legislative staffs were comprised of a few part-time members whose primary function was recordkeeping. Over the years, these staffs slowly grew. By the 1950s, states had developed legislative staffs - predominantly fiscal and budget agencies - rather than rely on executive branch staffs.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the federal government shifted considerable responsibility for program development, funding, and implementation to state governments. This shift meant that legislatures increasingly were held accountable for program development and implementation. As a result, by 1988, most states had fully developed full-time staffs, totalling more than 18,000 persons Jones, 1992: 131). The importance of these staff to legislatures is clearly documented (Entin, 1973: 427; Kovenock, 1973; 407; Porter, 1974; 703; Zwier, 1979; 42; Sabatier and Whiteman, 1985; 396; Huber, 1989; 1; Mooney, 1991; 445).

The fiscal problems experienced by state in the early 1990s drastically reduced the growth of these staffs, at a time when their workload was increasing. Consequently, now would appear to be an appropriate time for legislative staffs to use college and university faculty and staff to fulfill their need for a high-quality research staff without actually expanding staff size or cost.

Unfortunately, legislative research is frequently short-circuited by the exigencies of time and political environment. Thus, provision of research services almost always occurs within a short time frame. The key question, that needs to be asked is, "To what extent do college and university faculty and staff really help legislative research agencies?"

Roles Perceived by Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities in the United States have been founded in part for the purpose of educating and training people (Wilson, 1887; 197; Mosher, 1975; Fritschler and Mackelprang, 1977; 488; Waldo, 1980; Ellwood, 1985). In recent years, many colleges and universities have come to see themselves as schools with an expressed purpose of providing valuable low-cost research that is of regional and widespread interest to government officials (Regan and Mauer, 1985; 7; Cigler, 1992; 39).

In addition, higher education now sees itself as furnishing state governments with balanced, professional, and unbiased research. As state governments become more active in policy research and as they receive more responsibility for delivering public services without concomitant resources from the federal government, their need for research increases. Worthley and Apfel (1978; 608) emphasize that changing economic and social conditions demand greater levels of information, knowledge, and expertise on the part of state officials - and that colleges and universities are especially well suited to help legislatures and their agencies, primarily because they are uniquely multidisciplinary in nature (Kerr, 1985; Giamatti, 1981; Ravelle, 1975; 1104).

In a period of increasing by complex issue and declining revenues, higher education sees its schools as viable sources of information and assistance to state governments (Apfel and Worthley, 1979; 408). Higher education administrators contend that they fit a clearly useful niche because they provide information and knowledge to state governments to help them better serve their constituents. Colleges and universities are seen as resources on which governmental agencies capitalize (Gilley, 1990; 40; Gove and Stauffer, 1986). They may even be willing to lose money on their governmental research efforts, if the net effect is goodwill and increased appropriations. Translated into its simplest terms, higher education sees itself as possessing an extensive assemblage of multidisciplinary expertise that can be used to address specific public issues and concerns.

Colleges and universities generally are able to address these issues and concerns by (1) allowing wider and more efficient use of their facilities, equipment, and personnel, (2) furnishing a state-of-the-art, quality work force, (3) reorienting their research toward the needs and interests of legislatures, and (4) creating data collection and management units to furnish knowledge and information. …

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