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POLS 230 - Introduction to Policy Analysis

Discussion paper 1 – Friday 8/24

Laura Ruiz Oltra
Under what conditions might states be better positioned to take the lead in making
policy? Conversely, when should the federal government take the lead? Think
about some current issues such as education standards, immigration, and gun
control policy. which level of government may be best positioned to adress this

The US Constitution settles a system of government in which power is divided between

the national government and the states, and in which both of them have the authority to

enact laws or public policies. The Constitution grants some powers only for the federal

government (the enumerated powers), some other ones just for the state governments (the

reserved powers), and lets both executives share some other powers (the concurrent

powers). Since the early history of the US, it has been argued to what extent should both

of these government levels have power at the expense of the other. I am now pointing the

arguments of both of these positions, and my personal opinion regarding which of these

levels of government should take charge of which kind of policies and why.

In the first place, I think that commerce, environmental and defense policies should be

held by the federal government, as it concerns equally to all the states, and also because

security forces and taxes among the different states would be in this way coordinated,

which would make the implementation of these three policies much easier and more


On the other hand, I reckon that those policies that involve more of a citizen-government

close relation, such as the budgetary policy, could be conducted more efficiently by the

state governments than by the federal one, as this executive knows first hand the needs

and claims of its citizens, which may also vary from state to state.
Nevertheless, there are some kinds of policies that could fit in both of these categories,

whether because they affect to all national citizens or since more specific public demands

could be served for each state. One of them is the education policy.

At present, education is primarily a state responsibility in the US. It is not among the

federal government liabilities since, despite recognized as a key element of the society’s

well-being, education “is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our

Federal Constitution," as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973. Nonetheless, I would not

lose sight of the educational policies and their actual execution in the different states if I

were the federal government, as it is really important to verify whether the states are

"equitably" or "adequately" providing public education. At the end of the day, the students

of today will be the workers of tomorrow, and quality education is proven to be related

to economic growth.

What is more, there are examples of other federal or decentralized states which have had

or currently have serious problems with the difference of quality and standards of the

education provided in its different regions or states. A clear example is Spain and its

autonomous regions. Since I come from Spain and have experienced this in very much

person, I know that delegating the education policy may result in major political and civil

conflicts, so I would definitely opt for letting the federal government address it.

Another controversial topic to think about is whether the states or the federal government

should have the last word when talking about gun control policy. In this case, it makes

sense to me that there exist state laws for this topic, as it also does for the alcohol legal

age. As I see it, culture and customs vary from state to state, and alcohol and guns may

be less dangerous in some states than in the other ones. So, for me, it is perfectly
understandable that this “little things” that for sure do not affect the wellness of the overall

population, are ruled by the states and not by the federal government.

By contrast, immigration policy is for me one of the ones that should clearly belong to

the federal government responsibilities, as state-to-state borders may be “easier” to skip

than the national ones, and controlling immigration is specially important for security


To sum up, I could say that decentralizing is a truly helpful strategy to handle a country’s

policymaking, particularly when talking about the US, the third largest country in the

world; but it is something that for sure can not be taken lightly. A central government can

for sure take advantage of decentralization, as it helps providing more personalized

policies, and also lets more resources available for the central government main activities.

Even so, decentralized decisions may be less open and transparent, and sometimes the

states can not afford the implementation of some policies either.

So maybe states are better positioned to take the lead in making policy when they have

the adequate amount of resources and skilled personnel to do it, and sure enough the

federal government should lead the way when it came to legislating on cross-boundary

public problems. What is clear is that there is no simple answer to which level of

government should take responsibility for which kind of policy making, but that is one of

the reasons which make policy design and analysis so challenging and interesting.