Federal Regional Commissions and Authorities: Structural Features and Function (CRS R45997)

This report describes the structure, activities, legislative history, and funding history of seven federal regional commissions and authorities: the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Northern Great Plains Regional Authority; the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission; and the Southwest Border Regional Commission.

All seven regional commissions and authorities are broadly modeled after the Appalachian Regional Commission structure, which is composed of a federal co-chair appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and the member state governors, of which one is appointed the state co-chair. This structure is broadly replicated in the other commissions and authorities, albeit with notable variations and exceptions to local contexts. In addition, the service areas for all of the federal regional commissions and authorities are defined in statute and thus can only be amended or modified through congressional action. While the service areas for the federal regional commissions and authorities have shifted over time, those jurisdictions have not changed radically in their respective service lives.

Of the seven federal regional commissions and authorities, four could be considered active: the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

The four active regional commissions and authority received $15 million to $180 million in appropriations in FY2021 for their various activities. Each of the four functioning regional commissions and authority engage in economic development to varying extents, and address multiple programmatic activities in their respective service areas. These activities may include, but are not limited to: basic infrastructure; energy; ecology/environment and natural resources; workforce/labor; and business development.

Though they are federally chartered, receive congressional appropriations for their administration and activities, and include an appointed federal representative in their respective leadership structures (the federal co-chair and his/her alternate, as applicable), the federal regional commissions and authorities are quasi-governmental partnerships between the federal government and the constituent state(s) of a given authority or commission. This partnership structure, which also typically includes substantial input and efforts at the sub-state level, represents a unique federal approach to economic development and a potentially flexible mechanism for coordinating strategic economic development goals to local, state, and multi-state/regional priorities and contexts.

Congress has expressed interest in the federal regional commissions and authorities pursuant to its appropriations and oversight authority, as well as its interest in facilitating economic development programming. Given relevant congressional interest, the federal regional commissions and authorities provide a model of functioning economic development approaches that are place-based, intergovernmental, and multifaceted in their programmatic orientation (e.g., infrastructure, energy, environment/ecology, workforce, business development).

Federal Regional Commissions and Authorities: Structural Features and Function,” CRS Report R45997, April 29, 2021 (59-page PDF)

Appalachian Regional Commission
Delta Regional Authority
Denali Commission
Northern Border Regional Commission





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