Improving federal interagency coordination: a model based on micro-level interaction

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Public institutions are becoming ever more dependent upon one another due to their complexity and specialized programs. There is a growing potential for duplication and/or overlap. It is in the context of an increasing need for coordinated action—especially among Federal agencies—that this dissertation is written.

This dissertation posits a model for Federal interagency cooperation that moves beyond traditional interorganizational coordination literature and its exchange-based concept of cooperation. Drawing from the principles of authentic management founded in humanistic psychology and the negotiation literature, it suggests that such interorganizational cooperation is developed and nurtured at the micro level. Only through contactful engagement of the principals can the interests of the parties be revealed and dealt with to completion. In addition, this dissertation recognizes the unique character of such engagement when it takes place in pursuit of the public interest, as opposed to more traditional private settings.

This dissertation examines this model in the context of a unique interagency organization—the Interagency Regulatory Liaison Group (IRLG). This IRLG was formed by the chief executives of the five Federal health and safety regulatory agencies in 1977. It operated for four years with their personal involvement and enthusiasm until its charter expired in 1981. Involving hundreds of employees from the five agencies, it stands as a unique organizational experiment in cooperative activities.

This dissertation applies the IRLG experience, as seen through in-depth interviews with the agency heads and staff, to the micro-level model. The IRLG experience illustrated the model concepts of contactful engagement and integrative bargaining at the Federal interagency level. It showed the importance of the agential perspective on the part of the chief executives as they worked together on joint projects. It also illustrated the essentiality of building a lingua franca—a common language—for discussion and resolution of interorganizational differences. Finally, the emphasis in the model on maintaining both the substantive and process aspects on on-going interagency coordination is shown in the IRLG.