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Reflections on the Spirit and Work of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations


Bruce D. McDowell served on the ACIR staff for 24 years from 1963 to 1996, with time off to work for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (1964–72) and the National Council on Public Works Improvement (1986–88). Following the ACIR's demise in 1996, he was employed by the National Academy of Public Administration for 13 years. Then he worked for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America until December 2010. He has maintained a private consulting practice since 1996.


What did the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) accomplish before it was disbanded in 1996? Were its accomplishments sufficiently valuable to justify reestablishing the organization? This article reviews the commission’s origins, history, and accomplishments, and addresses future intergovernmental needs. The ACIR’s accomplishments were substantial, but are largely unavailable today. Lessons learned from the ACIR suggest the need to (1) recreate a network of intergovernmental advocates within the legislative and executive branches of the federal government; (2) restart the information flows and high-level federal, state, and local policy dialogues that withered after the ACIR’s demise; (3) strengthen boundary-crossing institutions capable of addressing metropolitan and multistate problems; and (4) develop new opportunities to achieve public policy outcomes that can be attained only by the cumulative efforts of federal, state, and local governments working together—often with private parties as well.