Foundations, Perspectives, and Issues of American Intergovernmental Relations

Published date01 January 2015
Date01 January 2015
AuthorDechao Sun
Book Reviews 165
Dechao Sun is associate professor
in the College of Public Administration
at Jilin University, China, and a research
fellow in the Jilin University Co-Innovation
Center for State Governance. His research
interests include public f‌i nance and
intergovernmental relations.
Book Reviews
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 1, pp. 165–169. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12319.
Conceptually, intergovernmental relations encom-
pass many areas of public administration theory and
applied research. Many previous studies have generally
approached this theme through the lens of a par-
ticular policy without considering the fundamentals
of intergovernmental relations. Other studies may
have a broader or comparative policy view, but they
tend to focus on a specif‌i c angle of research without
considering the multifaceted nature of intergov-
ernmental relations. American Intergovernmental
Relations: Foundations, Perspectives, and Issues, a
volume edited by Laurence J. O’Toole, Jr., and Robert
K. Christensen, now in its f‌i fth edition, provides
across its expert contributors an in-depth analysis of
the fundamentals, perspectives, and issues related to
intergovernmental relations, as well as an extensive
investigation into the foundation, operations, and
outcomes of federalism. It aims to detail the rich
complexity and interdependence that are essential to
intergovernmental relations. In this reviewer’s estima-
tion, the contributors to this edited work (mostly
contemporary scholars but stretching back to James
Madison) largely succeed.
American Intergovernmental Relations is organized
around the following questions: What are the funda-
mentals of U.S. intergovernmental relations? How do
these relations operate at the political, f‌i nancial, and
administrative levels? What are the chief associated
problems and challenges?  is book makes consider-
able headway in addressing each of these, ultimately
advancing the f‌i eld’s understanding of policy issues
from the perspective of intergovernmental relations.
is edition is divided into six parts. Parts I and II
investigate the origins of modern U.S. intergovern-
mental relations from the historical and constitutional
perspectives, respectively.  e historical development
of U.S. intergovernmental relations is discussed in
part I.  e achievements of and dilemmas faced
by modern intergovernmental relations stem from
choices made at and soon after the nation’s founding
more than two centuries ago.  e original conceivers
Laurence J. O’Toole, Jr., and Robert K. Christensen, eds.,
American Intergovernmental Relations: Founda-
tions, Perspectives, and Issues, 5th ed. ( ousand
Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2013). 421 pp. $74.00 (paper),
ISBN: 9781452226293.
The study of intergovernmental relations deals
with how the many and varied governments
in the United States interact with one another
and what their relative roles, responsibilities, and
levels of inf‌l uence are and should be (2).  is often-
controversial topic has been a long-standing concern
throughout the political and administrative histories
of the United States. Conf‌l icts involving intergovern-
mental relations have helped shape or even led directly
to a series of major turning points in U.S. history,
including the American Civil War, the establishment
of a social welfare state under President Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s New Deal, the f‌i ght to end poverty in the
1960s, the implementation of welfare reform policies
in the 1990s, and the heightened homeland security
ef‌f orts of the twenty-f‌i rst century.
Intergovernmental relations are not simply a
collection of isolated events. In reality, it is very dif-
f‌i cult to form a systematic understanding of major
policy issues, past or present, without detailed knowl-
edge of the historical development and structure of
intergovernmental relations.
Successful intergovernmental relations are key to a
well-run governing organization (Graves 1964). As
there was no prior formalized experience of federal-
ism, the establishment of the United States was itself
an elaborate experiment in intergovernmental rela-
tions. Federalism necessitates that the power structure
is shared between the federal and state governments
in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.  e
relationship between the two levels of administra-
tion is one of interdependence: of‌f‌i cials in governors’
mansions and in the federal executive branch must
have regular exchanges and communications with
one another.
Foundations, Perspectives, and Issues of American
Intergovernmental Relations
Sonia M. Ospina and Rogan Kersh, Editors
Dechao Sun
Jilin University, China

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