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How Do Intergovernmental Relations Work in the U.S.?

Friday, December 02, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Intergovernmental relations in the U.S. describes the interaction between national, state and local governments in the American political system. Understanding these relationships is vital for someone working in domestic public affairs, especially at the local level. Taking public affairs courses in an online Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program is an excellent way to prepare for the challenges of navigating relations between various levels of U.S. government.

How National, State and Local Governments Work Together

National, state and local governments all operate within the U.S. government system. Each level of government in this federalist system is responsible for certain functions and powers. Federalism has many advantages over other types of government systems, including greater experimentation and policy diversity that results from intergovernmental relations, incremental policy change based on debate, and greater accommodation of ethnic and cultural minorities, in certain states and regions. Because the national, state and local governments in the U.S. share their powers, these branches and departments must all collaborate to achieve shared goals.

Public affairs officers at the local level carry the responsibility of representing the interests of a city within the larger governmental context. Some cities task an intergovernmental relations department with monitoring federal and state government activities, developing legislative programs, coordinating with other city departments, and managing the city’s federal and state consultants. Public affairs officers in these departments may also identify federal and state legislation and initiatives that will affect the city and consult with legislative delegates accordingly. A city’s intergovernmental relations department might also serve as a connection between the mayor’s office and the city council.

The curriculum of a high-quality master’s degree in public affairs will include public affairs courses that prepare individuals for the political and administrative challenges involved in intergovernmental relations. People working in this field need to understand fiscal issues and social policies such as health policy, welfare programs, and workforce agencies; policy development and implementation; administrative politics; and public personnel policy. Intergovernmental relations in the U.S. require public affairs professionals who can analyze existing agreements and negotiate future ones through effective communication with local, state and national governments.

Learn about University of Texas Rio Grande Valley online MPA program.


City of San Antonio: About Intergovernmental Relations

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government: Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations

City of San Antonio: Federal Overview

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