The Office of Management and Budget yesterday announced it has cajoled 27 different federal agencies into agreeing on new guidelines for dealing with the states and localities affected by such programs as dams, highways, army bases, forest management plans, hospitals and sewage treatment plants.
The new guidelines give state governments more authority to object to federal initiatives that affect their lands or their citizens. They also streamline the procedures states can use to respond to federal plans, asking governors to designate a single official responsible for dealing with federal agencies.
Ideally, the new regulations should allow states to respond to Interior Department plans roughly the same way they respond to Agriculture Department plans, instead of having to thread their way through a separate labyrinth of bureaucratic requirements in each federal agency.
The potential losers in the new process are local, municipal and regional agencies that could lose some of their clout with the elimination of OMB's old A95 circular on intergovernmental coordination. The new guidelines ask state governments to consult with local officials, but do not provide for a local review process if a state decides not to review a federal action.
"For the first time I believe we have a consistent and simple approach to the problem of intergovernmental coordination across 27 federal agencies," said Harold I. Steinberg, OMB's associate director for management. "We are not regulating state and local governments. [The rules mean] the federal government is supposed to make accomodations to state and local governments and if they cannot accommodate them to explain why."
Steinberg explained that an agency proposing an action, from selling leases on mineral rights in the West to building a dam in New England or a levee in the Southeast, would have to check with the state official who was designated as the federal contact. If the state objected to the proposal and the federal agency wanted to go ahead anyway, the federal agency would have to explain why--in writing, if the governor desired. The states would have no other formal appeal.
The rules announced yesterday--under the authority of President Reagan's Executive Order 12372, promulgated last summer--boiled thousands of pages of regulations on intergovernmental coordination down to 223 pages in the Federal Register.
"This provides an opportunity for states to reduce paperwork and allows governors more latitude to work out their own relationships with their own local governments," said Carol Weissert, a spokesman for the National Governors' Association. "If this is what it does, we support it."