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Special Message to the Congress Recommending the Establishment of a Commission To Study Federal, State, and Local Relations

March 30, 1953

To the Congress of the United States:

In the State of the Union Message, I expressed my deep concern for the well-being of all of our citizens and the attainment of equality of opportunity for all. I further stated that our social rights are a most important part of our heritage and must be guarded and defended with all of our strength. I firmly believe that the primary way of accomplishing this is to recommend the creation of a commission to study the means of achieving a sounder relationship between federal, state and local governments.

The way has now been prepared for appropriate action. Shortly after stating my original intention, I called an exploratory meeting of interested officials, including members of Congress and a group of governors representing the Council of State Governments, to confer with me on such a study. This conference produced general agreement on the importance of the problem and an offer of cooperation in the proposed study. Within a few days representatives of several leading organizations of local governmental officials will meet at the White House with several of my associates to give their considered and needed counsel.

The present division of activities between Federal and state governments, including their local subdivisions, is the product of more than a century and a half of piecemeal and often haphazard growth. This growth in recent decades has proceeded at a speed defying order and efficiency. One program after another has been launched to meet emergencies and expanding public needs. Time has rarely been taken for thoughtful attention to the effects of these actions on the basic structure of our Federal-state system of Government.

Now there is need to review and assess, with prudence and foresight, the proper roles of the Federal, state and local governments. In many cases, especially within the past twenty years, the Federal Government has entered fields which, under our Constitution, are the primary responsibilities of state and local governments. This has tended to blur the responsibilities of local government. It has led to duplication and waste. It is time to relieve the people of the need to pay taxes on taxes.

A major mark of this development has been the multiplication of Federal grants-in-aid for specific types of activities. There are now more than thirty such grant programs. In the aggregate, they involve Federal expenditures of well over $2 billion a year. They make up approximately one-fifth of state revenues.

While by far the greater part of these expenditures are in the fields of social security, health, and education, they also spread into many other areas. In some cases, the Federal Government apportions fixed amounts among the States; in others, it matches State expenditures; and in a few, it finances the entire State expenditure. The impact of all these grants on State governments has been profound. While they have greatly stimulated the development of certain State activities, they have complicated State finances and administration; and they have often made it difficult for States to provide the funds for other important services.

The maintenance of strong, well-ordered state and local governments is essential to our Federal system of government. Lines of authority must be clean and clear, the right areas of action for Federal and state government plainly defined. This is imperative for the efficient administration of governmental programs in the fields of health, education, social security, and other grant-in-aid areas.

The manner in which best to accomplish these objectives, and to eliminate friction, duplication, and waste from Federal-state relations, is therefore a major national problem. To reallocate certain of these activities between federal and state governments, including their local subdivisions, is in no sense to lessen our concern for the objectives of these programs. On the contrary: these programs can be made more effective instruments serving the security and welfare of our citizens.

To achieve these purposes, I recommend the enactment of legislation to establish a commission on governmental functions and fiscal resources to make a thorough study of grants-in-aid activities and the problems of finance and federal-state relations which attend them. The commission should study and investigate all the activities in which federal aid is extended to state and local governments, whether there is justification for federal aid in all these fields, whether there is need for such aid in other fields. The whole question of federal control of activities to which the federal government contributes must be thoroughly examined.

The matter of the adequacy of fiscal resources available to the various levels of government to discharge their proper functions must be carefully explored.

The commission should be of such size and composition as to permit appropriate representation of the various governmental levels and of outstanding members of the general public. It should be provided with an excellent staff, able to draw on the great amount of work which has already been done in this field.

In order that the commission may complete its report in time for consideration by the next session of the Congress, I urge prompt action on this matter.


Note: Public Law 109, 83d Congress, establishing a Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, was approved on July 10, 1953 (67 Stat. 145).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Special Message to the Congress Recommending the Establishment of a Commission To Study Federal, State, and Local Relations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231581

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