Ogsbury: Policies can improve relationships
The relationship between the federal government and state governments has been an issue for many years, said Jim Ogsbury, Western Governors Association (WGA) Executive Director, but there are efforts being made to improve the connection.
Ogsbury discussed the efforts WGA and state legislators have made to improve the state-federal relationship, in a webinar on Nov. 14 titled, “State Consultation: Working to Make the Process Better,” which was hosted by the Council of State Governments West (CSG).
To establish some context for WGA’s efforts towards consultation, Ogsbury discussed the state-federal relationship, which is complex and multidimensional.
“State authority is the founding theme, which runs through multiple policies like water management, public lands management, work force development and much more,” he said.
He mentioned that western governors recognize states have the competency, knowledge, expertise and resources, which can be used to develop and execute federal policy, especially policies effecting states and state authority.
“The genius of American democracy lies not only in the separation of powers among the governmental branches but also among the division between the federal and state government, known as federalism,” Ogsbury stated.
He explained American federalism narrows, defines and limits the power of the federal government, but allows the powers of state governments to be broad and indefinite.
“The 10th Amendment states, ‘The powers not delegated to the U.S. by the constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people,’” Ogsbury said. “Regardless of this amendment, over the years, power has shifted away from the states and towards the federal government, which infringes on state authority and dampens innovation and impairs on-the-ground problem solving.”
Ogsbury believes WGA policies on state authority are very important and have the most potential for long lasting effects on the organization, CSG and other’s work to fundamentally realign the state-federal relationship.
“A 2016, WGA resolution describes strengthening the state-federal relationship using the governors’ vision of a more functional relationship between the states and federal government and provides a roadmap for realizing their visions,” he added.
Ogsbury said the governors believe it is time to consider developing a government-wide platform to think about considerations for federalism, identify issues and design federal policy.
He added, “Before making any meaningful changes, people in authority who don’t understand the role states played in creating the federal government need to be educated because there is a lack of constitutional literacy in Congress and the executive branch.”
Ogsbury also mentioned he would like to see the phrase, “states, tribes, counties and other stakeholders” removed from federal regulations, rules, guides and handbooks because the idea that states should be deemed similar to any other group external from the federal government is ridiculous.
“States are different than other groups, especially because they created the federal government and still retained a great measure of authority,” Ogsbury said. “The governors’ vision is for state and federal officials to work side-by-side to develop and execute federal policies impacting the states, from the earliest stages of policy creation, which will result in better policies.”
He said the states and governors have the experience and on-the-ground knowledge of their respective environments, economics, cultures, politics and legal regimes, and these factors should be taken into account for policy development.
“I believe meaningful state engagement will result in better policies and result in more legally defensible policies,” Ogsbury added.
“Any serious effort to improve the state-federal relationship has to recognize the different incarnations of the relationship and address the issues specific to the different contexts,” he stated.
According to Ogsbury, WGA has conducted a multi-pronged campaign to promote their vision of a better state-federal relationship and have used their resolution to strengthen the relationship to create federalism principles.
“The core group WGA has been working with includes CSG, Conference of Western Attorney General of the Pacific Northwest Region and the Western Interstate Region of the National Association of Counties, and they have created and sent their federalism principles to all House and Senate members, executive branch officials and have met with congress committees and congressional leadership,” Ogsbury noted.
Administratively, WGA and the other groups met with the White House, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Interior, Ogsbury stated.
WGA also developed a matrix of recommended reforms, largely calling for the adoption of shared federalism principles, and they created the Western Policy Network
“The Western Policy Network is an informal confederation of western policy associations with common interests, organized to exchange information, identify issues and leverage their collective influence and resources in certain areas to make calls to action,” Ogsbury explained.
Improving the relationship
Ogsbury believes the master key to improving the state-federal relationship is meaningful consultations between the federal government and states.
WGA’s policy on consultation reads, “Each executive department and agency should be required to have a clear and accountable process to provide each state – through its governor – with early, meaningful and substantive WGA input in the development and regulatory policies that have federalism implications. This includes the development, prioritization and implementation of federal environmental statutes, policies, rules, programs, reviews, budgets and strategic planning,” according to Ogsbury.
“The consultation process should involve a measure of accountability, enforceability and substantive effect. In terms of substantive effects, consultation should be guided to ensure the interests of the state and general public are distinguished,” he said.
“State consultation should be designed as its own process with a clear set of procedures and should involve an effective and transparent system to identify when proposed actions or decisions require consultation with states,” Ogsbury added.
Ogsbury stated federal agencies should also engage in early pre-rulemaking consultation with governors or designees during the development of rules and decisions prior to the occurrence of any decision-making.
“Governors and designated state officials should have the opportunity to engage with agencies on an on-going basis to seek refinements, to propose federal regulatory actions prior to finalization and to have the opportunity to discuss the details of any proposal and potential impacts of those proposals on state authority,” he mentioned.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org