Local Empowerment, Flexibility Legislation Will Help Distressed Urban Neighborhoods; Federal Regulatory Red Tape, Waste Would Be Cut

By Shays, Christopher | Nation's Cities Weekly, April 22, 1996 | Go to article overview

Local Empowerment, Flexibility Legislation Will Help Distressed Urban Neighborhoods; Federal Regulatory Red Tape, Waste Would Be Cut


Shays, Christopher, Nation's Cities Weekly


The federal government would be a better partner with local government and business if it didn't so often bully them with rigid rules and red tape. This is particularly true with federal categorical grant programs. The strings attached to many of these programs needlessly consume money and restrict local flexibility.

According to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR), there were 618 federal categorical grant programs available to state and local governments at the beginning of 1995, including 110 in education, 100 in health care, 82 in social services, and about 30 in community and regional development.

The National Academy of Public Administration, in testimony last August before the House subcommittee I chair, said that the federal categorical grants system "has grown like topsy" and "so too has the list of requirements and restrictions imposed through both statute and regulation. It (the system) also imposes significant compliance costs. America is too diverse verse for one, size-fits-all policies and programs."

The problem is that too many dollars are wasted by red tape and rigidity - dollars which could go much farther toward helping solve local problems. Communities regulations federal aid are stymied by regulatory handcuffs which require that funds be spent only as Washington dictates. All communities and their needs are different, but federal regulations treat them all alike.

Congressman William Clinger of Pennsylvania and I recently introduced legislation designed to address the inflexibility and fragmentation of federal programs. The bill, called the Local Empowerment and Flexibility Act of 1995 (H.R. 2086), would create a statutory framework to give state, local and tribal governments flexibility in administering federal funds. A companion bill, S. 88, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Mark Hatfield.

The legislation permits local variation in spending based on local needs, freeing up dollars for services that might otherwise be drained away by burdensome and high administrative costs, duplicate audits and paperwork. It releases the creativity and energy of people at the "ground level" who are in the best position to determine local needs and get the most services out of available grant dollars.

The cornerstones of the flexibility process are planning and accountability. An applicant - a state, county, municipality, planning region or Native American Tribe - would formulate a comprehensive plan for the use of two or more federal grants. Community participation and input would be essential. The applicant would identify all federal, state, and local and private resources to be used as well as any regulations, which would need to be waived to achieve the goals of the plan. Specific performance measures would be set by the community.

To make sure that national program goals are being met, the plan would be reviewed in Washington. But grants made a part of an approved "Flexibility Plan" would be given priority consideration by federal agencies.

It should be noted that this legislation will not increase federal spending.

The National Conference of State Legislatures recently wrote: "We feel that the legislation will make a significant impact on the ability of state and local governments to deliver services more efficiently and target problems in an innovate manner. …

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