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As the US recovers from the pandemic, the Biden administration is working to rebuild relationships at all levels of government, from top to bottom, that were strained during the presidency of Donald Trump.
In November 2020, Biden offered urban leaders a seat at the table in coronavirus recovery efforts, vowing to avoid partisanship. Addressing the National League of Cities in March 2021, Harris praised urban leadership on COVID-19 – cities like Seattle other New York They were among the first to respond to the pandemic, developing test protocols, tracking new infections and providing equipment for hospitals, and highlighted the administration’s plans to help pay for local infrastructure improvements.
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The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the importance of government leaders working together.
The US system of government, called federalism, shares power between national, state and local governments. This system allows local control over most of the daily government decisions. Local control means that policies can be tailored to the needs and constraints of each community.
But with the emergence of COVID-19 in early 2020, the tensions in this shared system boiled. Instead of collaborating, the federal government state and local governments rejected Desperate for critical information and life-saving supplies.
States and cities competed for medical equipment, testing capacity and supplies, and other necessities. The densely populated cities, many in conflict with the federal government, were hit the hardest.
Federalism seemed to fail, slowing down the response and causing deaths.
Unlike the previous administration, the Biden administration is treating local governments as key partners in a variety of areas, including public health.
It has taken steps to provide local policymakers with more control over allocation other distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, while establishment of national policies accelerate the availability of vaccines.
Reaffirming closer relationships between the federal government and state and local partners may indicate a shift toward greater collaboration overall.
The federal government can use its power and position to drive change at the local level. A more collaborative relationship can help the federal government understand the needs of communities, leading to new policies and priorities. The close partnership can also increase awareness of available federal resources, helping state and local governments identify programs for better support its residents.
But as our research shows, federal dominance can also backfire.
How Federalism Works and How It Doesn’t Work
Federal and state governments are responsible for national or regional priorities, such as defense, diplomacy, and the collection and redistribution of tax revenues.
But local governments provide the most widely used public services, including schools, transportation, parks, and public health. As a result, local governments are perhaps the most important in people’s daily lives.
Local governments make and implement policies. In areas where federal and state governments are silent or inactive, local governments often innovate to address community needs. That freedom to innovate helps local governments create policies that can work their way across the federal system.
For example, despite the reaction of state and national leaders, Many cities – like Austin, Los Angeles, Virginia Beach, and Washington, DC – have led the way in social and environmental policy, embracing and advocating for higher minimum wages, fracking limitations, sanctuaries for second amendment rights other reduce police violence.
Scholars have noticed changes in the dynamics of these relationships throughout history. During some times, the federal government has more power over policymaking. At other times, state and local governments wield greater influence.
For example, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society welfare programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps) increased the influence of the federal government about state and local governments. New federal requirements mandatory expense in social programs, which often require matching funds from state and local governments. And new state and local agencies had to be established to implement federal priorities.
Federal dollars shared with local governments to fight poverty came with tied ropes. Examples include requirements to comply with environmental standards and adopt nondiscrimination policies.
With the advent of welfare reform in the mid-1990s, the the federal government relaxed some of these requirements. As a result, state and local governments were given more flexibility on spending decisions and policies.
Our recent research indicates the balance of power in the federal system affects government performance and the safety of Americans. During the COVID-19 response, the federal government did not partner with state and local governments. As a result, there were problems finding and delivering crucial supplies like masks and ventilators, leading to unnecessary deaths.
Historically, presidents have adopted a variety of approaches to managing the federal system.
Johnson’s Great Society Programs expanded the authority of the federal government. Federal agencies gained the power to create and manage the details of the effort to eradicate poverty, hunger, and discrimination.
From President Richard Nixon “new federalism“He sent money on so-called”block grants“To state and local governments to carry out different federal initiatives. This allowed local governments some power over the design and implementation of policies.
From President Ronald Reagan “pragmatic federalism“Privatization emphasized – using private sector organizations to deliver services – and decentralization. Reagan used the markets to provide government services through grants and competitive contracts.
In more recent years, academics have accused presidents George W. Bush other Barack Obama to return to the more coercive federalism of Johnson’s Great Society. To encourage state and local governments to adopt federal priorities, federal funding under these presidents again included chains, growing tensions between these levels of government.
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Under President Trump, these tensions reached an apex. Cities clashed with the federal government over immigration policy, police violence and medical care, and ultimately how to handle the pandemic.
Much of Biden’s proposed broad infrastructure plan addresses the problems of rural and urban areas, such as care, clean energy and healthcare. Other parts face regional problems, such as transportation, where states play an important role.
With the understanding that coordination among all levels of government helps address issues more effectively, one step Biden could take is to revive the US Intergovernmental Relations Advisory Commission. This commission functioned from 1959 to 1996, offering guidance to federal presidents and agencies on issues that spanned the levels of the federal system. The the commission’s speech aided abuses of power in the federal system and strengthened alliances between governments.
As academics, we know that policy issues are rarely independent. Global climate change affects local transport policies, while health problems are often closely linked to education and agriculture.
Local governments are important players in the federal system, and over the next year they will be instrumental in ongoing efforts to vaccinate the American public and prepare for disasters like hurricanes and wildfires.
Given the complexity of modern policy problems, a renewed consideration of how all levels of government can address such important issues could help solve them.