NVRC began operating on December 10, 1947 as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth and originally was called the Northern Virginia Regional Planning Commission. It was created under the Virginia Regional Planning Act of 1944 and was composed of both elected and citizen appointees of the member local governments. Economic Development was added to the name after the Commission was organized to make it the Northern Virginia Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission (NVRP&EDC)
Following the 1968 Virginia Area Development Act, it was reconstituted in 1969 as the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission, representing 12 counties, cities and towns.
In the mid 1990s, the Area Development Act was replaced by a similar state law, the Regional Cooperation Act. The number of NVRC's member governments now has grown from 12 to 14, and the Commission changed to its current name in the year 2000.
In January 2005, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission began operating under an amended Charter, which calls for a membership of only elected officials.