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This article was originally published in the November/December 2011 print issue of the PA TIMES. For more information on how to be published in PA TIMES print or online contact Editor Christine Jewett McCrehin at [email protected]
In keeping with ASPA’s initiative to both enhance its role in the shaping of public policy and increase the Society’s public visibility, two meetings have recently been held with Controller of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Danny Werfel, one of the top ranking officials at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Werfel oversees numerous aspects of OMB’s management and inter-governmental relations activities.
The first of these meetings, initiated by ASPA Past President Paul Posner, took place in early October at the White House Conference Center and involved several ASPA members with long-time Washington experience–including Executive Director Toni Samuel, Kathryn Newcomer, Sam Brown and Don Kettl–as well as Laurel McFarland representing NASPAA. Werfel was accompanied by one of his senior aides.
The conversation was quite wide ranging. Werfel pointed out that OMB was always looking for new insights and guidance, particularly in terms of improving the management of federal programs, especially those that involved significant interaction with states and localities. In that regard, he noted that the massive array of projects undertaken as a consequence of the Recovery Act represented an extraordinary opportunity to begin to examine more closely the effectiveness of federal management practices. He further indicated that he was particularly anxious to get a better understanding from the grass roots level as to how the federal stimulus projects had been implemented and the impact that they had in local communities.
The ASPA participants agreed that the Recovery Act presented an extraordinary opportunity for looking at federal management practices, but also suggested that this and other circumstances called for a much broader look at the American inter-governmental system and the need to explore ways in which the system could be made to work more effectively and efficiently.
It was pointed out that it was almost two decades ago that the principal governmental agency for examining the effectiveness of the American inter-governmental system, the Advisory Commission on Inter-Governmental Relations, had been closed down. Since that time, the federal government has come to rely even more upon the states and localities for the implementation of important public programs and not only was there not a significant federal government agency or organization addressing these issues, but even OMB itself did not have a major unit to focus upon inter-governmental relations.
While lasting almost two hours, it was clear to all participants that there were still numerous issues that needed to be discussed further and that some follow up mechanism needed to be developed. Consequently, it was concluded that Werfel and the ASPA participants would meet again a couple of weeks later at the annual conference of NASPAA where Werfel would be speaking.
That meeting has led to two next steps. The first of these is the decision that ASPA would establish an informal working group on issues of inter-governmental relations in the United States. The goal of that working group would be to develop an agenda and/or a mechanism to encourage a new and fresh look at the American inter-governmental system and how it might work more effectively in terms of promoting more productive collaboration between the varying levels of government within the United States.
A second step that emerged from these meetings was the decision by Werfel to establish a liaison person at OMB in order to link it more effectively with ASPA, NASPAA and the policy research resources that they can bring to bear in terms of better understanding the impact of various federal programs at the state and local government level.
Towards that end, OMB will shortly designate an individual who will serve as a contact person for ASPA and NASPAA as well as someone whom institutions and individuals planning to engage in relevant policy research may contact in order to link their efforts more closely with OMB. Such contact will enable individual researchers to both draw upon information and insights that OMB may provide as well as to make the results of their research more readily available to senior officials of the government.
ASPA member Allan Rosenbaum is director of the Institute for Public Management and Community Service at Florida International University and leads ASPA’s policy engagement initiative. Email: [email protected]