Intergovernmental Relations and Productivity

By Falcone, Santa; Lan, Zhiyong | Public Administration Review, July-August 1997 | Go to article overview

Intergovernmental Relations and Productivity

Falcone, Santa, Lan, Zhiyong, Public Administration Review

How have the efforts to coordinate the actions of federal, state, and local governments adjusted to the iterative shifting of responsibilities among levels of governments? The efficiency and effectiveness of intergovernmental interactions have been challenged by current constraints. Using the hypothetical Reinvent, Inc., the following example illustrates the constraints currently affecting the productivity of intergovernmental interactions.

At Reinvent, Inc., three profit center executives -- A, B, and C -- have specific authority, responsibilities, and resources at their disposal. The nature of Reinvent, Inc.'s business requires that the executives coordinate the work of their profit centers. Initially, Executive A provided funds and directives to Executives B and C to assist in accomplishing their profit centers' work. Executives B and C were in a subordinate role to Executive A due to their economic dependence.

The owners of Reinvent, Inc. recently directed Executive A to reduce funds to Executives B and C. As they have sought and obtained other sources of funds, Executives B and C have become more economically dependent on Executive A. Although the economic relationship has changed, the owners directed Executive A to retain and assert more authority over Executives B and C by increasing the directions, and the requirements, expectations, and the responsibilities of Executives B and C. The three executives communicate regularly to adjust the coordination of their work as each change is instituted. This example portrays current intergovernmental relations, with Executive A representing public administrators in the federal government, and Executives B and C representing public administrators in state and local government (Wright, 19990; ACIR, 1996).

Ideally, for intergovernmental relations to have high productivity, the authority, purposes, responsibilities, and resources of federal, state, and local governments would be clearly delineated and stable. Given that less than ideal circumstances exist, the following discussion identifies coping strategies that should be or are being used to enhance the productivity of intergovernmental relations.

Continuous Awareness of

Current Capacities

Awareness of three-year and five-year trends is informative, but it is increasingly important for governments at all three levels to monitor the nearer term in order to capture unanticipated changes that will spike demand for public services. Public organizations at each level can individually and collectively determine on an ongoing basis what their unique and current strengths are and assess what each can realistically accomplish. The following discussion of the unique strengths of the three levels of government is directed to that end.

At the federal level, comprehensive knowledge is avoidable from which overall trends a-nd statistics can be derived. The resources are also comprehensive, enabling the broadest range of activities to be supported. Through these resources, the federal. government has the greatest capacity to function as a change agent using regulation and unfunded mandates or by tying funding to planning, performance measurement, civil service, or other requirements (Hatry, 1989). The federal government has also served as a trendsetter for other government units with regard to public employees through the passage of civil service reforms (Henry, 1992).

State and county governments are confronted by a smaller range of competing interests than the federal government. Regional interests are both more specialized and more unified than at the federal level. For example, states have specific industries such as farming, oil, or aeronautics instead of the full spectrum of industries that compete for favor at the federal level. State and county governments have narrower tax bases than the federal government and, without the extensive public-good obligations like defense, they can focus these resources on issues and problems unique to their region. …

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