King: The Need for Honest State-Based Research
by Stephen M. King, Ph.D.
In a recent Governing Magazine article (“What Happened to Federalism?”), the author laments that the 1996 closing of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) was a mortal blow to the non-partisan influence and interaction of state and local officials with their federal counterparts on a plethora of policy issues.
Today, ideological and partisan Washington-based think tanks such as the conservative Heritage Foundation and the more moderate to liberal Brookings Institution are the bastion of policy data. The question, though, is whether this arrangement is good for the development and dissemination of empirically sound and valid information to political and policy makers.
Should state and local governments become more politically and administratively entrepreneurial in policy advocacy? Or can the federal government recreate something akin to the ACIR, thus reviving a largely non-ideological research organization?
Perhaps we can look to the states for answers.
Indiana is one of 20 states that have a state-based version of the ACIR; it is titled the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (IACIR).
According to its website, the IACIR was formed in 1995 by the Indiana General Assembly “to provide a forum to plan for and address the problems that will arise as greater demands are made on state and local governments.” Its mission is “to create effective communication, cooperation and partnerships between the federal, state and local units of government to improve the delivery of services to the citizens of Indiana.”
Assisted by the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment (IUCUPE), the IACIR works to produce applied research in a variety of areas to assist Indiana legislators to make better policy decisions that affect all Hoosiers.
Recent 2013 surveys, for example, by the IACIR, working in conjunction with IUCUPE, have focused on issues such as the 911 emergency phone service and enhanced 911 services to all local and county areas. The survey resulted in legislation that provided, among other things, specific guidelines on jurisdictional oversight of 911 calls. The goal, presumably, is to better streamline 911 calls, thus enhancing the response rates.
Other university-based research and survey organizations, such as Ball State’s Bowen Institute and Indiana University at Fort Wayne’s Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, provide research focusing on both local and state managerial and political issues that may well be relevant to a legislator or policy adviser working in a position of administrative influence. Indiana and 19 other states depend at least in part on such local policy organizations to provide research from which legislators can derive assistance in making policy and oversight decisions.
To what extent, though, are legislators influenced by organizations focused on broader economic, systemic or even social change, those not so committed to applied government-driven solutions? Examples would include the Indiana Policy Review (www.inpolicy.org), the Indiana Family Institute (www.hoosierfamily.org) and the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research (www.sipr.org) — all currently operating outside the IACIR sphere.
How does each type of research aid legislators, policy advisers and agency officials in their gathering of data, and ultimately making sound policy and regulatory decisions? Which type of research provides the better basis for summarizing a myriad of information on topics as diverse as enhancing the quality and effectiveness of 911 calls to streamlining voter registration information?
And most importantly, which type of research contributes to a healthy national and sub-national intergovernmental environment?
Perhaps some combination of both is the answer. Whatever the arrangement, the end game should be sound policy advocacy to state and federal legislators based, above all, on solid research.
Stephen M. King, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, teaches political science at Taylor University.