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State and Local Governance Fifteen Years Later: Enduring and New Challenges


Frank J. Thompson is a professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University, Newark. He served as executive director of the National Commission on the State and Local Public Service. Dr. Thompson undertook this project as a senior fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. He is also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and an affiliated faculty member of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.


This article draws on the contributions to this issue and related evidence to assay the extent to which the states and larger local governments have moved in directions endorsed by the Winter Commission in 1993. The commission’s recommendations targeted (1) the political context of state and local governance, with a particular focus on executive leadership, campaign finance reform, and citizen engagement; (2) the specifics of public administration, with primary emphasis on empowering managers through internal deregulation and bolstering human resource capacity; and (3) the nature of the relationship between the national government and the states in a key policy arena. Significant changes in the fabric of state and local governance have occurred in each of these three areas over the last 15 years. Many of these modifications are consonant with the thrust of the Winter Commission report, but the evidence also points to the limits of state and local reform. Further reform initiatives should be built on systematic efforts to advance knowledge concerning the origins, nature, and outcomes of the array of institutions and processes present at the state and local levels.