NLC Opposes Legislation that Undermines Partnership with Federal Government

May 21, 2012
by Carolyn Coleman 

In a letter to Congress last week, NLC warned that provisions in two different measures that have passed the House and Senate would inhibit collaboration and communication between the federal government and its state and local government partners. 

Joining NLC on the letter were the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the International City/County Management Association. 

The provisions, which are included in H.R. 2146, the DATA Act, and S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would severely restrict the participation of federal agency personnel in conventions, conferences and meetings hosted by federal agencies and non-governmental organizations. They come in response to the General Services Administration (GSA) spending scandal in which the agency spent more than $820,000 in tax payer money on a convention for approximately 300 GSA employees. In addition to the legislation, the scandal led to the resignation of the GSA Administrator, the dismissal of other GSA officials, and four congressional oversight hearings earlier in the spring. 

In the letter, NLC and other groups acknowledge the importance of reducing spending and promoting transparency but argue that the well-intentioned provisions as drafted would have unintended consequences that would harm the intergovernmental dialogue. "The legislation being considered would limit the type of intergovernmental dialogue necessary for finding solutions to shared policy problems that are vital for conserving scarce resources and meeting public needs," said the groups. 

Specifically, the groups are concerned about a section of the legislation, which states: "LIMITATION ON THE ANNUAL NUMBER OF CONFERENCES AN AGENCY MAY SUPPORT - No agency may expend funds on more than a single conference sponsored or organized by an organization during any fiscal year, unless the agency is the primary sponsor and organizer of the conference." 

This section could be interpreted to mean, for example, that if the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) spent money to travel to NLC's Congress of Cities Conference in Boston, Mass., later this year, then neither DOT's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Relations or DOT's Deputy Secretary or any other DOT employee could attend a similar NLC meeting for the year. Given the significance of the federal highway program to local communities, the Deputy Assistant Secretary and the Deputy Secretary spent money in the last year to travel to NLC meetings for local government officials to debate and discuss local priorities for a new program. This type of important dialogue might be prohibited if this section becomes law. 

As associations who regularly convene hundreds of events each year to help state and local government officials implement and oversee federal programs and monitor federal activity, the groups closed the letter by calling on Congress "to oppose the provisions like those in H.R. 2146 and S. 1789 that would undermine the intergovernmental 
relationship between federal, state, and local governments."