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In managing complex policy problems in the federal system, state and local governments are organized into different arrangements for translating policy goals into policy outcomes. Air quality management is used as a test case to understand these variations and their impact on policy outcomes. With data from Clean Air Act implementation plans and a survey of state and local air quality managers, five separate institutional designs are identified: (1) central agencies; (2) top-down; (3) donor–recipient; (4) regional agencies; and (5) emergent governance. Findings indicate that some arrangements (donor–recipient and emergent governance) result in notably better air quality than others (central agencies, top-down). Specifically, when designed to allow bargaining between state and local officials, intergovernmental management is still the most effective approach to complex policy problems; but, in absence of this, conventional federalism arrangements are less effective than public agencies self-organizing around shared policy goals.

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This is the peer reviewed version of the following article:

Fowler, L. (2020). Governance, Federalism and Organizing Institutions to Manage Complex Problems. Public Administration, 98(3), 713-729.

which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.