The National Rural Development Partnership has roots in the Rural Development Act of 1972, which directed the Secretary of Agriculture to coordinate a nationwide rural development program with those of State and local governments. The Rural Development Policy Act of 1980 strengthened these provisions and called for a rural development policy and strategy, as well as annual updates. The first major federal initiative along these lines occurred in April 1989, with the formation of an Interagency Working Group on Rural Development within the White House Economic Policy Council. The working group was directed to analyze and evaluate existing Federal rural development programs and develop policy options for improving their coordination and execution. They issued a report entitled “Rural Economic Development for the 90's: A Presidential Initiative” in January 1990.
What is today referred to as the National Rural Development Partnership was first called, in 1990, the President's Initiative on Rural America. In January of that year, the President ordered the Secretary of Agriculture to implement six proposals to improve the coordination of rural development programs and serve as a catalyst for future initiatives. One proposal was to form a President's Council on Rural America, with members drawn from farmers, State and local governments, rural businesses, and high-technology industries to advise the Federal Government on improving Federal rural development policy. A second was for each State to establish a rural development council to coordinate Federal rural development programs in its region. The Deputy Under Secretary for Small Communities and Rural Development was appointed to lead the interdepartmental rural development effort. The “President's Initiative on Rural America” later became the “National Initiative on Rural America.”
Under the umbrella of the Under Secretary, individuals from various federal agencies and other organizations formed the Monday Management Group. Originally composed of representatives from 18 federal agencies, the National Governors' Association (NGA) and several public interest groups, this body developed the core implementation guidelines and structure for the Partnership. In a few years the membership of this group swelled upwards of 70 members and constituted the central body of the Partnership. The name of this group was changed to the National Rural Development Council in the winter of 1994. At the same time, the National Initiative on Rural America was renamed the National Rural Development Partnership to better communicate the missions, principles, and roles of the participants.
Concurrent with the growth of NRDC's membership, the office of the Under Secretary worked to set up eight pilot SRDCs in late 1990: Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Washington. As of the summer of 1992, there were 32 SRDCs. By 2000, 40 State Rural Development Councils had been established.
The hallmark of the National Rural Development Partnership is collaboration. It is not intended that its activities supplant, duplicate, or compete with any program, but rather to facilitate coordination, awareness and collaboration among those involved in rural development. The partnership works to improve implementation of government programs. At the grass roots level, the emphasis within the SRDCs is on open membership for any institution that has an interest or responsibility for the state's rural areas.
The National Rural Development Partnership acts as a non-partisan forum for identifying, discussing, and taking action on issues affecting rural America. It is a catalyst for collaborative projects and, at times, acts as a clearinghouse and referral center for matching communities in need with available resources to meet those needs. Perhaps the foremost strength of the National Rural Development Partnership is its established network of contacts where information can be spread at topmost speed to a diverse and widespread constituency. The same holds true for information flow in the opposite direction; its value as a consultancy forum continues to grow.