The “Inter-government” Threat to Federalism


Representative government, too, is undermined by the proliferation of intergovernmental groups

The “separation of powers” is one of the hallmarks of American government. It works horizontally and vertically: governmental power is separated into different branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) and into different layers (state, local, and national).

These structures are built into state and federal constitutional law. Their raison d’être is to protect liberty.

Maintaining the separation of powers forces governments to follow multi-step processes. At each point, citizens can be heard and decision makers can be held accountable. Officials are elected to offices with particular powers related to their step in the process. They can appoint deputies (or hire staff), but responsibility remains with the elected officials who can be punished by voters at the ballot box.

Today, the separation of powers is blurred by a proliferation of “intergovernmental” organizations. These groups work outside of established legal frameworks to create public policy. Many spend and distribute public money. Some are not subject to open government laws. Most are unknown.

The organizational structure of the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Take, for example, the Puget Sound Regional Council. No one has ever been elected to the Council, at least not by the voters. Yet it has a budget of $22.2 million (over half for staff salaries) and controls over $160 million in government grants. Most citizens know at least a little about their state and local governments, but they know nothing about the Council. And if they do, what difference does it make? It is government of the government, by the government, and for the government.

When one government collects money for another government to spend, the chain of responsibility is impaired. It becomes harder for voters to figure out who is accountable for what. When money is transferred to an uncountable bureaucracy like Puget Sound Regional Council, it becomes impossible.

The Council also undermines the role of states in our federal system. It creates an avenue for the national government to work directly with selected local officials to create policy within the state but without the state government.

There are other examples. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, ICLEI, is an international membership organization of local governments to develop model policies and lobby each other to increase government planning and regulation. In the United States, more than 600 local governments pay dues to ICLEI.

Policymaking outside of established legal frameworks endangers the separation of powers. Intergovernmental bodies represent their government members rather than citizens. Government, in such instances, is not representative. Federalism is undermined. Law and Liberty are at risk.

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4 Responses to The “Inter-government” Threat to Federalism

  1. rob christianson on 2010/06/29 at 7:44 PM

    Please spellcheck this document.

    3rd to last paragraph: "The also Council undermines the roll…" Bad grammar, and should also be "role" not "roll"

    2nd to last paragraph: "fo" rather than "of".

  2. rob on 2010/06/29 at 7:46 PM

    i am posting a comment.

  3. Rob Christianson on 2010/06/29 at 7:48 PM

    Sorry for that last one. I'm a designer and wanted to show my developer buddy your cool effect once a comment is posted. And now, back to our program…

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