Abraham Lincoln once said, "In all that people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere."

We're pretty sure Lincoln wasn't thinking of information technology at the time. But the thought could certainly apply today. Honest.

Skip forward more than a century, to when Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill was in his prime as a politician. "All government is local," he said. Local government officials couldn't agree more.

Stop, Drop and Rolls

Through the power of devolution, federal mandates such as welfare reform are now the responsibility of cities and counties. During a time when the buck stops here, the reality is that government starts and stops at the local level.

"I think, oftentimes, people relate to the fact that local government is where it all begins and certainly is where it stops," said Betty Lou Ward, a Wake County, N.C., commissioner and immediate past president of the National Association of Counties (NACo). "It's sort of like a birth and death kind of thing if you look at the responsibilities of local government, particularly counties."

But while that means people at the state and national levels are finally listening to what local governments have to say, officials with the smaller entities still have to act independently.

"I think there is a real recognition that the federal government has certain responsibilities, and what we ask as local-government officials is for legislation that the Congress and the president think should be law, that if they do pass it, there should be funds given to the local governments to implement it," said Clarence Anthony, president of the National League of Cities (NLC) and mayor of South Bay, Fla. "There -- and I've said this before -- is a lot of great legislation that becomes bad legislation when money is not attached to it and it is sent down to the local officials to implement the effort.

"As it relates to welfare reform specifically, I think that any American would agree that we

The Big 7

The Big 7, as it is known in Washington, D.C., is a collection of organizations representing state and local government officials.

At the state level are the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors' Association and the Council of State Governments, with the National Association of State Information Resource Executives serving as the technology arm for states.

Local governments are represented by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. The technology arm for the local government associations is Public Technology Inc., which, along with many other groups, is based in Washington, D.C.

need to do something and reform our system, but just getting people off of the

welfare rolls is not enough," Anthony said. "The second leg of that is how we get them into lifelong learning jobs, which include jobs which have to give them skills in technology. We just can't give them jobs at McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's; we must give them jobs with benefits and child care attached to them. So that's the kind of sensitivity that local government officials and people who have to actually implement the legislation take into consideration. That's why we try to do as much as we can in Washington, D.C., as a Big 7 organization."

Hot Fun in the Summertime

The local government organizations have been busy lately, in Washington, D.C., and nationwide. In fact, when the NLC holds its annual Congress of Cities in Los Angeles from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, it will conclude one of the busiest years, if not the most turbulent, that local governments have experienced in quite

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor