Meet the gatekeeper to the National Governors Association

Meet the gatekeeper to the National Governors Association
© Courtesy of NGA

When the nation’s governors meet this weekend in Washington, Scott Pattison will be their gatekeeper.

In his third year as head of the National Governors Association (NGA), Pattison has launched a new initiative aimed at attracting a more international audience to the annual gathering. This year, governors will hear from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana.


Pattison sat down with The Hill to talk about the importance of state-international relationships, the NGA’s new innovation focus and the hot topics governors are talking about. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

This year’s NGA meeting has an international flavor. Why is that?

Pattison: The governors for a while have been telling me that they do so much in terms of economic development, and a lot of that involves international interaction. You can’t really name a state without some major foreign investment that creates jobs. Because of that, it’s a great opportunity now for NGA, as part of the many things that we do as an association of the governors, to provide them with the ability to interact with colleagues or folks from other countries, whether it’s business or ambassadors. The more they’re getting to know each other and have this interaction, the governors think it’s really beneficial for their economic development, for encouraging more investment and trade that benefits the residents of their states.

Why do foreign leaders want to interact with a governor?

Pattison: There’s no question that the federal government obviously is critically important, but the governors also have such a key role in economic development in their state. Internationally, over the years, they realize, “Oh, we’ve got to engage the governor.” Because they’re going to have the role and the influence and decision-making authority as to whether a plant can be expanded, whether or not the community colleges are going to offer the types of classes that involve the skills they want.

They really want to engage sub-nationally. The governors want that interaction, and sub-national is really important to these companies.

What’s the state of the state–federal relationship right now?

Pattison: It’s good, but it’s different. What I’m seeing is a lot of interaction between the federal government and governors. What I’m seeing is a lot of talking, sharing of information. 

How is it different from the Obama years?

Pattison: I sense that there seems to be more of an interest, particularly at the federal level, to make sure that they’re engaging and hearing from their governors. And that’s a really positive thing. There’s probably more behind-the-scenes talking, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Tax reform was the administration’s big first-year success. How is that changing state priorities?

Pattison: What I hear governors say is they’re in the process of trying to forecast what kind of impact it will be for them. They’ve told me that what they need to do is to be able to forecast short term and long term. Last time, in ’86, you saw a big short-term bump for a lot of states, but then it kind of flattened. They don’t want to have a one-time only benefit.

What else are governors talking about? What’s the new hot trend?

Pattison: Health care continues to be a big issue, but not necessarily just [the Affordable Care Act]. For governors, health care involves so many aspects of price, concerns about access, premium charges for different residents. For them, it’s a lot bigger than the ACA.

On infrastructure, there continues to be a concern about how do we shape something that’s a true federal–state partnership that involves sufficient resources to maintain and build infrastructure.

You just launched NGA Future, a new initiative on innovation. What’s its goal?

Pattison: Since we’re the association of all the governors, we want to be the group that’s giving them a heads-up of the type of technology that’s really going to have a major impact on states, two years, five years, within their four- to eight-year terms. I think it’s going to be really exciting to be talking about, OK, looks like autonomous vehicles are coming down the pike — is that a pun?  — and how should you deal with that?

One of the areas you’re starting to hear about, and I think governors are interested in, is more and more data. You can pretty much pinpoint, not necessarily in real time but pretty close, Tamiflu prescriptions through Medicaid and health insurance. So you can say the amount of Tamiflu prescriptions in this county has shot through the roof, but it’s not happening elsewhere. So you can swoop down in that county and try to isolate the flu. There are so many innovative things technologically that we want governors and government more generally to think about — how can you use this to be more efficient, to save money?