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Governmental_Federalization of America

Updated on October 26, 2012

Federalism: Past, Present and Future

Christian L. Perry


This paper analyses Federalism with regards to its advantages and disadvantages as a facet of government. The paper will also examine how Federalism has changed in lieu of Constitutional ratification and its subsequent effects both positive and negative to the author, with a look at how the size and power of the federal government is affected by contemporary politics and trends.

Federalism as defined by Thomas R. Dye and Bartholomew H. Sparrow in their educational work titled Politics in America is:

“A constitutional arrangement whereby power is divided between national and subnational governments, each of which enforces its own laws directly on its citizens and neither of which can alter the arrangement without the consent of the other (Dye, R. T. & Sparrow, H. B. 2009)”.

The concept of federalism has several distinct advantages. Due to its focus on maintaining liberty, disbursement of power and to manage governmental factions, federalism helps to create a system of checks and balances that strive to retain a balance of power between houses and maintain the power of its constituents in order to protect liberty and reduce the risk of sub-governmental agencies being dictated by the whims of those in the halls of power by way of conflicting governmental bodies that will keep each other under scrutiny (Dye, R. T. & Sparrow, H. B., 2009). The advantage in this is that each party will ensure the other does not hold too much power or influence. In our current system this is representable by the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties; whereas the Republican Party promotes power to the private sector the Democratic Party promotes power to the national government. Ironically however, it would seem that although the Republican Party promotes power to the private sector the interests they seem to protect are those of the upper-class just as the Democratic Party promotes power to the government for the purposes of better managing the health, education and financial status of the lower-class.

The concept of “disbursement of power” dictates that power is delegated through multiple branches of office so as to create competition between agencies, thus increasing accountability and productivity. One major advantage to this system is the creation of a platform of sorts that can be utilized to gain political experience through governmental office advancement. For example; a candidate with no political experience may not have developed the skill set necessary to hold office at a national level. Through state offices a candidate has the opportunity to develop the skills required to be effective in higher offices. Because the individual states retain autonomy from national political office as a result of federalism they also provide a place to regroup for the losing party of elections. This is crucial in that it promotes the survival of not only traditional parties but the survival of new parties as well. Without this political perceptual growth would stagnate.

Lastly, federalism creates conflict between political party influence not just at the national level but at the state level as well. The purpose of this is to manage the levels of power between the two, ideally keeping them balanced. A benefit to this is found in that each party is open to new ideas and will likely strive to excel through innovation, creating “better services at lower cost” to attract more voters (Bennis, W. & O'Toole, J. 1997).

Although there are benefits to federalism there are also disadvantages. Take for example the amount of bureaucracy this system creates. If an endeavor requires the unified function and communication of several offices there is a good chance that there will be complications, some arising simply from differing procedures rather than a unified system. One example in particular is a case of neglect towards a child from his mother in my area. She attempted to overdose of medication while her 5 year old son was home alone with her. He found her and called 911. When the police arrived his mother attacked the officer with her son between them. This is also not the first time something like this occurred. The boy was removed to by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and was placed with his uncle and his wife. It is important to understand how federalism affects offices like DHHS. With just this one case the following offices were involved: DHHS, Augusta Mental Health, Pre-trial Services, a Guardian Ad litem, the courts, home visit clinicians, Adult Reintegration Services, lawyers, a counselor for him and her independently and Maine State Housing Authority. All of these offices were involved in helping his mother acquire what she needed to be able to provide her son with a safe and healthy place to live. The problem arises when these offices have to coordinate and communicate. Because of the diversification and branching out of state governmental offices the amount of time it takes to accomplish things is greatly increased. It took 3 months for the departments to coordinate enough to make a court appearance on the child’s behalf. Then in a matter of 6 months, in an effort to alleviate an extensive case load, the boy was returned to his mother with no regard for the several previous incidents in which she placed her son in danger from people and drug use.

The mother was supposed to be drug tested 3 times a week and was never tested until 2 weeks before her son was to be returned and they scheduled the appointment a week in advance, giving her ample time to clean her system out of and illegal substances. Since the time of his return she has begun to use drugs again and leave him with whoever will watch him while she goes out with friends. Out of 9 months of supervision and counseling the offices involved only managed to drug test her once, gave two home visits and repeatedly fails to return the phone calls of his therapist in regards to his change in behavior soon after returning home. This is not very effective and shows how although the delegation of powers can have a positive effect with regards to function and diversification it also possess the threat of becoming too decentralized in that the original host loses the ability to manage conflicts within its parts. A simple example of this is the goals of each office. For DHHS it is necessary to reduce caseloads of child welfare workers as the average caseload is double and even triple what is recommended for the worker to have an effective and positive impact on their clients lives (, 2012). So it would stand to reason that their main priority is to reduce the caseload of its workers. Add the motivation of a limited budget and it is very likely that the office starts to be run like a business rather than a public outreach program.

The office of pre-trial services has the singular goal of monitoring substance abuse and activity of its clients. These clients chose this in lieu of incarceration. Yet in order for the agency to make a home visit and screen for drug substance abuse they have to coordinate with the social worker from DHHS and have them present. Pre-trial does not require the scheduling of an appointment to perform this action, yet DHHS does. Due to their inconsistency in procedures an individual is effectively “warned” well in advance of their “pop-screening” making the test pointless and the process ineffective.

Another disadvantage to federalism although obscure and possibly hard to substantiate is the segregation of the people, state and national government. The conflict created to ensure accountability and growth also has the potential to remove focus from “the people” due to the increased focus on maintaining the individual agency through funding and lawmaking. I think that the combination of this conflict with the fact that every system in our culture runs off money that the underlying influence is to manage the finance of the state and/or nation. With a budget cut of over $2.4 billion from 2009-2010 the state has to recoup that in other areas. One area is the imposing of taxes, in particular taxes on tobacco products. In Maine as of 2009 there has been a 78% of original price tax on tobacco products generating millions in revenue for the state (, 2009). This money is taken from the people of the state that could otherwise use it to provide for themselves. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between tobacco tax increase and welfare and/or state funded services increases.

Another disadvantage to federalism is that through compartmentalization of powers there is the chance that if an office is dissolved there will be no one capable of filling the gap. For example; the manager of the hotel I work for asked me if we could afford to do an appetizer platter for $75. Because of federalization in the work place he has no knowledge of the kitchens cost parameters, so in effect if there was suddenly no Chef to tell him he would be without the information and not be able to absorb the position until a replacement could be found.

The evolution of federalism has seen several significant milestones in its history, in particular in reference to the changes made to the constitution that promote this concept more effectively. One such example is that of gay-rights and gay-marriage. Original the constitution mandated that each state follow the collective in regards to “public acts and judiciary proceedings”. This was augmented by the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 in that it allowed each state to decide its own laws with regards to gay marriage (Dye, R. T. & Sparrow, H. B. 2009). The act of sexual union between same sex partners is still considered a personal liberty that is protected by the Constitution. In this instance the national government gave power to the states. However there are instances where that power is taken away from the state for the betterment of its people. Particularly monumental was when congress passed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. In this instance the power was removed and the state was over ridden creating a new future for millions of individuals through the conflict of federalism.

The question is how do the states maintain all the different agencies that have arisen through federalization of state powers? Most of the money comes from federal grants. The federal government is able to provide these grants as a result of the taxes they collect from its constituents. So if taxes are increased then the financial power of the government to “bail out” states is increased. As a result the federal government has been able to have power over the states use of the granted funds in areas such as education, social services and healthcare (Dye, R. T. & Sparrow, H. B. 2009). I am sure it is much more complex than this but it seems as though the federal government is only giving back the money they original took. By reason alone that would mean that if the federal government didn’t take that money as tax then the states would not need the grants.

In my life directly the effect of federalism can be most clearly exemplified by the passing of the Maine Medical Marijuana Act in 2009. This act allowed for the use, sale, private cultivation and possession of a substance labeled illegal by the federal government. To honor the state’s power the Obama administration stopped prosecution of users and caregivers as long as they abided by state laws that applied ( 2012). This affects me directly because I have teen age children and for a fee anyone can legally purchase marijuana and then sell it on the streets, thus increasing the likelihood of exposure for them and possible peer pressure to try it. All-in-all federalism seems to be beneficial in that it allows for delegation of powers so that the ones maintaining agencies are the ones who make the decisions for the agency and it is extremely effective in diversification and expansion in business. Federalism seems to promote growth regardless of the institution.


Bennis, W. & O'Toole, J. (1997). Our Federalist Future: The Leadership Imperative, California Management Review, Vol. 34, Issue 4, p. 73, (2012). Caseload and Workload Management, Child Welfare Information Gateway, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved on Oct 23rd 2012 from

Dye, R. T. & Sparrow, H. B. (2009). Indestructible Union, Indestructible States, Federalism Dividing Governmental Power, Chapter 4, Politics in America, Pearson Education, Inc. pp. 105-106, 117 and 126., (2009). Smokeless Tobacco Excise Tax Rate Changes Effective July 1, 2009, Administrative & Financial Services, State Of Maine Revenue Services. Retrieved on Oct 24th 2012 from mple.pdf 2012). Maine Medical Marijuana Law, Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved on Oct 24th 2012 from


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