Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a White House Conference With the Governors.

March 18, 1967

I AM delighted to welcome m this House, the Governors of our great States and of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

We are here to advise and consult with each other, as public executives, on the central business of our governments--the welfare of the American people. We are here on common ground, nonpartisan ground--as elected officials charged with the obligation of using public resources for the public good.

Individuals may differ about the wisdom of specific social or economic programs. But we are wholly in accord on this: Once we commit public money to enhance the public well-being, to fight poverty, to improve the lot of our cities, we have a fiduciary responsibility. Many of my days are spent in trying to live up to that responsibility--in trying to find more efficient and effective ways to use the public's dollars for the public good. Certainly one of those ways is the constant improvement of relationships between Federal and State governments.

This has been a longtime concern of mine. Nine years ago, as Senate Majority Leader, I spoke to the Texas Municipal League of my commitment to strong local government. I said that we must "map for the Nation the future course of relations between all levels of government. We need to establish more carefully than we have and more fully than we have the needs of each level, the roles of each level, and the responsibilities of each level."

All of my experience since then has added to that conviction.

Today the remarkable system of government devised by the genius of the Founding Fathers faces a complex and bewildering world. As it enters the final third of the 20th century, our Union faces problems of a magnitude undreamed of by the drafters of our Constitution in mass education, hard-core poverty, both urban and rural, urban blight and renewal, modern law enforcement, transportation, and air and water pollution.

Essentially, these are local problems demanding local solutions. The Federal Government itself cannot teach a child, police a street, rebuild a neighborhood. These are tasks for the communities and States.

At the same time, they are problems that few if any States can meet alone. Crime, poverty, polluted air and water do not respect State or county boundaries.

A practical, working, Federal-State partnership has been imposed by the very necessity of responding to these problems--because they were too complex for either level of government to meet alone.

One measure of the impact of recent social legislation on State government is the level of funds appropriated for Federal grants in aid. In 1920 these totaled just $30 million. This year they are expected to total $15 billion, and in just 5 years they could quadruple.

A good instance of the administrative problems now confronting us all can be found in the existence of 400 authorities for grant programs.

Last year, one Governor reported that 170 programs of Federal aid were being administered by 21 Federal agencies, through more than 200 agencies and subdivisions in his State alone.

The administrative and legal machinery of many States is heavily burdened by the strain of this sudden and unprecedented flow of Federal funds. And the pressures will continue to mount.

What we are living through together are the birth pangs of a fundamentally new process in American government--a new kind of federalism--Federal-State interaction never contemplated by the Founding Fathers.

In their desire to limit central power, they sought to define and separate as sharply as they could the respective roles of the Federal and State governments. Traditionally, we have not been concerned with the systematic exchange of communication, advice, and consultation between the President and State executives.

And in the past, the views of the States frequently were not solicited in the formulation of Federal programs affecting State and local interests.

A sound Federal-State relationship--a new federalism--that will meet the complexities of our time, must do the following things:

--It must delegate increasingly to the States authority and responsibility for the local treatment of local problems

--It must encourage the most productive and efficient use of Federal and local funds, and

--It must assure that State executives will freely advise and consult with the Federal Executive on all matters of mutual concern.

The essential element in making the new federalism work as it ought to is good communications between the President and the Governors--between the White House and the statehouse.

As you know, I have taken steps to improve both our own communications, and the States' access to all of the processes of the National Government.

I instructed my Cabinet officers last November to afford to the executive leaders of the States every opportunity "to advise and consult in the development and execution of the programs which directly affect the conduct of State and local affairs."

My own direct contact with Governors and with State and local problems seems to increase with each passing week. I have, since I became President in November 1963, excluding travel and social activities, had approximately 550 personal contacts with 73 individuals serving as Governors of States or Territories; 88 Governors with me for office visits; 269 Governors in 20 group sessions and 193 telephone discussions with Governors. And my extremely able, energetic and dedicated ambassador to the Governors, and the States, Governor Farris Bryant, has been going fiat out ever since he took on that job a year ago.

In the past 6 weeks alone, he and a team of top Government officials have made flying visits to 17 States to talk with their Governors and staffs. They have discussed with many of you new and better ways to manage partnership programs and to assure that the lines of authority and communication will pass through the Governors' hands. Many more of your invitations will be honored in the coming months.

I know that all of you will remember that at each meeting I have assured you that we would send a team to your State to meet with you and to brief you and to answer any questions you desired answered at any time you requested such a visit.

Our meeting today will expose you to the current thinking and plans of my Cabinet in areas of specific or general concern to you. But above all, we have not asked you here to preach or lecture to you; we have asked you here to counsel with us on the matters that concern us all.

I hope you will make use of every opportunity to do that today, tomorrow, and when you return to your statehouses.

With a few important exceptions, most of the authorizations we need to meet our most pressing national and local problems have been adopted or will soon be adopted. We need the funds to carry out programs already on the statute books--and we believe those funds can be provided by our expanding economy.

What remains is a tremendous job of organization and systematic management calling upon all our public and private resources at all levels of our national life.

The closer we can work together, the sooner, the better, the more economically the job will be done.

I want to thank you all for coming here today. I hope that it will be a useful and rewarding experience for you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:05 a.m. in the Fish Room at the White House.

As printed above, this item follows the text released by the White House Press Office.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a White House Conference With the Governors. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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