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The Appalachian Regional Commission: An Experiment in Intergovernmental Management e,!® by Philip W. Conn ©s» Philip W. Conn is Vice President for University and Regional Services, Morehead State University, Morehead, Kentucky. Introduction The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is fighting for its life! Since early in 1981 the Reagan administration has vigorously pursued a plan to dismantle the 18-year-old agency on the grounds that it has outlived its usefulness, requires national funds that should be cut from the budget, and represents an unnecessary "fourth layer of government". The ARC has continued to operate during the 1982 and 1983 fiscal years, thanks to Congressional support which is increasingly uncertain, with annual appropriations of approximately $150 million (about half of previous levels of federal funding) . But, even its strongest backers concede that ARC has been mortally wounded and will do well to accomplish a three- to eight-year "finishup program" which has been proposed by the Appalachian governors as an alternative to Reagan's call for an immediate shutdown (Louisville Courier-Journal, March 2, 1983). Since its creation in 1965, the ARC has funnelled nearly $5 billion into highway and area development programs located within the 397 counties of 13 states which it defines as Appalachian . To many, both opponents and supporters, the ARC is one of the last vestiges of the Great Society program. For them its demise would represent another victory in the efforts of Presidents Nixon and Reagan to rid the federal government of the "war on poverty" legacy of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Since there is no doubt that the founders of the ARC were primarily interested in creating a program of federal spending for a depressed area, in the beginning the organizational character of the agency was more or less incidental to the assistance program. However, the ARC has developed into a unique, joint national/state commission and today is recognized as the ? original and prototypic interstate agency for regional economic development (Wright, 1982, p. 333). Beyond the obvious loss of federal dollars to Appalachia, the death of ARC would mark the end of an innovative and ambitious experiment in intergovernmental management. Con49 gress has already responded to Reagan's urging by abolishing the "Title V" regional commissions which were designed to duplicate the ARC model from coast to coast. Just how conceptually realistic, organizationally functional, and programatically effective is the multistate regional commission approach? The debate on such issues has raged throughout ARCs existence. While it may be impossible to provide a definitive evaluation of the feasibility of multistate regionalism as a mechanism for intergovernmental management, several recurring questions on the matter can be addressed. This article offers some observations and contrasting positions in response to five of these questions in the context of the ARC experience. Is the ARC a truly regional operation, or only an opportunistic coalition of state governments? This is a critical question because it gets at the heart of a basic rationale for multistate regionalism—the need to transcend state autonomies in view of common characteristics, goals and problems which should be confronted in a unified manner. Without a genuine "regional agenda" that eclipses the parochial interests of individual states, a multistate development agency seems vulnerable to criticism that such a "fourth layer of government" is a meaningless bureaucratic contrivance. As Martha Derthick (1974, p. 5) has noted, "at its most daring, the case for regional organization argues that the state governments are artificial creations, obsolete and too numerous, which should be replaced by larger governments rationally adapted to the 'natural' or sociocultural features of American society" . While the founders of ARC never envisioned a "state of Appalachia" (although several writers have) , they declared the need for a regional program to attack a regional problem, emphasizing that additional funds for county-by-county or state-by-state development alone would not get the job done. But, even before the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 (ARDA) was passed, regionalism had yielded to state-by-state development. ARC officials have tried to make a virtue of the fact that "policy and procedures are designed to honor the particular conditions found in each state". Only a state or one of its subdivisions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2692-9287
Print ISSN
2692-9244
Pages
pp. 49-58
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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