After years of being ignored by Congress and nearly everyone else, the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has finally found someone who can turn its ideas into headlines.
Although he didn't name the commission, President Reagan quoted from one of its reports during his State of the Union message Tuesday, and drew heavily on commission recommendations when he announced his "single, bold stroke" to make government more responsive.
And, quite frankly, the ACIR staff was taking some credit yesterday. "I would like to think that we played some small part in contributing information to the president," the commission's acting director, Carl W. Stenberg, said.
Carol S. Weissert, the commission's information officer, was a bit more direct. Reagan's "trade-off" plan, which would give the federal government responsibility for some programs and make the states responsibile for others, was suggested by the commission in the 1960s, she said, and has been pushed by the board for years.
The ACIR was created by Congress in 1959 to monitor the relationship between federal, state and local governments and make recommendations for change; it now has a budget of $1.6 million and a staff of 35. Under law, the bipartisan commission must include six members of Congress, three executive branch officials (Interior Secretary James G. Watt now serves as chairman), four governors, four mayors, three state legislators, three elected county officials and three private citzens, each appointed for two-year terms. Its former members include Reagan, who served on it in 1970-72 while he was California governor.
Since its creation, the commission has churned out hundreds of reports in support of such programs as federal revenue sharing and block grants, but much of its advice simply has been ignored by Congress.
ACIR made its biggest splash in 1980, when it released a three-year, 11-volume study of the federal government's role and influence; its recommendations were entitled "An Agenda for American Federalism."
The study blamed Congress for the current state of the federal government and concluded that "contemporary intergovernmental relations have become more pervasive, more intrusive, more unmanageable, more ineffective, more costly, and above all, more unaccountable"--a statement that Reagan quoted directly in his speech. The study also cited figures that Reagan used on the growth of categorical grant programs and described the growth in Federal Register pages as an index of increased regulation.
The study might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the National Governors' Association and National Conference of State Legislatures. Both groups used the study to win a campaign promise from Reagan to appoint a sub-Cabinet-level committee to study the realignment of government power. Reagan appointed an Advisory Committee on Federalism last year.
In October, Richard Williamson, Reagan's assistant for intergovernmental affairs and an ACIR member, told the commission that the president wanted it to give top priority to a more detailed study of trade-offs.
ACIR has finished its study and began mailing it to Congress last week. The 150-page study lists 60 possible combinations of revenue or tax turnbacks and program trade-offs.
"They trade-offs always have been an academic issue in the past, something confined to the area of research and teaching and the like, but interest has spread to state and local officials and now the president. It's really remarkable," said Stenberg.