Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Relations Meets to Discuss Federalism

The Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, a bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers met on October 12, to examine the historical development of federalism. Witnesses were Heather Gerken, Dean at Yale Law School, Timothy Conlan, Professor of Government at George Mason University, and Matthew Spalding, Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs for Hillsdale College.

In her opening statement, Heather Gerken explained her belief that the states are key to policy formation and implementation within a larger national system. Rather than seeing state and federal governments as presiding over separate empires, Gerken sees the interdependence of governmental levels as a good thing. By allowing states to be innovative, states can contribute to the national policy dialogue.

“The states and the federal government govern shoulder to shoulder…when one moves, the other moves with it,” she stated.

Dr. Conlan focused his testimony on improving state-federal relations. He suggested that a better alternative would be to build on our model of intergovernmental consultation. He stated that the United States used to have a good system for this, with bodies like the Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, or ACIR, but that many of these bodies had slowly withered away. ACIR provided an essential conduit for communication and policy making to the federal executive branch for state and local governments. The commission was established in 1959 and disbanded in 1996.

Dr. Conlan recommended, “Giving some thought to resuscitating something like the ACIR… [as] it has a track record of allowing officials to work through common problems.”

He also noted that many significant federalism reforms originated with the ACIR.

The Task Force questioned the panel on a variety of topics such as federal overreach, policy innovation in the states, and the place of large states like California in intergovernmental affairs. A recording of the full committee hearing can be found here.