How do you tell the different between when government programs overlap and duplicate each other versus when they complement and reinforce each other in a collaborative network? Is this just a difference in rhetoric or in reality?
This is the underlying theme of a new report by Congressional Research Service specialist Fredrick Kaiser, in “Interagency Collaborative Arrangements and Activities: Types, Rationales, and Considerations.” Given the recent big push by Congress to deal with overlapping programs, and recent reports by the Government Accountability Office, it is quite timely.
Kaiser doesn’t draw a line between duplication/overlap and mutually reinforcing/collaborative programs, but he does lay out a framework for understanding the different kinds of collaborative arrangements because there is no commonly accepted definition. He frames (and offers definitions for) six different types:
- Collaboration, an arrangement which relies, to a substantial degree, on voluntary or discretionary participation among the members, who are relatively equal or at least have parity in such an activity and arrangement;
- Coordination, an arrangement in which a lead agency or officer directs an operation, project, or program among one or more other agencies;
- Merger, an arrangement which merges or transfers all or parts of different agencies or their authorities, jurisdictions, personnel, and resources on a permanent basis to another organization, either a new or existing department, agency, bureau, office, or other entity;
- Integration, an arrangement which brings together relevant parts of agencies on either a long-term or a temporary ad hoc basis, to carry out a particular operation, project, program, or policy; these endeavors, unlike mergers, involve nonpermanent transfers of personnel, resources, or authority among relevant agencies;
- Networks, an arrangement which involves the federal government and all or several other levels of government: federal, state, local, tribal, or, in some cases, foreign countries; and
- Partnerships, an arrangement which features public-private partnerships, with the public sector entities extending from the federal government to state, local, or tribal governments, as well as, in some cases, foreign governments; and with the private sector involving different types of entities: non-governmental organizations (NGOs), not-for-profit organizations, for-profit companies and firms, government-sponsored enterprises, and government-chartered corporations.
He says each type used has an underlying rationale and expectations, ranging from “reducing policy fragmentation,” and “mitigating competition” to “enhancing efficiency and effectiveness” and “streamlining and improving congressional and executive oversight.” His report is heavily footnoted with examples and reports from across the government, such as homeland security, intelligence, emergency management, and health care. He even reaches back to a 1937 report, “Senate Select Committee to Investigate Executive Agencies with a View to Coordination.”
He concludes that most collaborative efforts are context-dependent and “differ in structure, organization, authorities, purposes, size, scope, scale, life-span, and expectations.” As a result, their effectiveness has not been systematically documented.
So, there’s no answer as to whether multiple, overlapping programs are an opportunity for collaboration, or an opportunity for elimination!