The Concept of Cooperative Federalism and Its Activity in The United States

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Words: 1578 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Oct 4, 2018

Words: 1578|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Oct 4, 2018

Cooperative Federalism is the concept that refers to how the national, state and local governments all cooperate to solve problems and create policy. Cooperative federalism emphasizes the overlap of responsibilities and power between state and local governments and the federal government. The US moved away from Dual Federalism which is an arrangement that divides powers between the national and state government in a way that they work individually, and moved toward Cooperative Federalism during the 1930’s as a response to the Great Depression[1]. Cooperative federalism applies to the legislative and executive branches (not the judiciary) of the government and can be seen in various different government activities. According to an article in The Hill[2] titled “Keeping Cooperation in Cooperative Federalism”, there are benefits of Cooperative Federalism for both national and state governments. Those benefits include improving federal-state relationships and allowing citizens to reap the benefits of state innovation. Though political systems are constantly changing and evolving, cooperative federalism is still implemented in many ways in the current government.

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Cooperative Federalism can be seen in the legislative branch of the US in the process of passing bills and creating laws. During the Great Depression the federal government started to rise in power. In response to this, a new approach to government interaction called The New Deal[3] enacted several domestic programs that forced the federal government to work with state and local governments to implement the new policies. When state and federal legislature work together to address an issue or solve a problem the federal government generally sets goals that need to be reached and the states are allowed to approach those goals in whichever way they decide as long as the goals are reached. The federal government only steps in on that process when goals are not being reached in which case they are allowed to amend the approach in place. Cooperative efforts from federal and state legislature can recently be seen in government issues such as education and environmental protection. For example, the federal government provides funding and sets out certain criteria for school systems while each individual school board is allowed to choose their curriculum and teacher qualifications. This cooperation between the federal and state governments allow the states to feel empowered by giving them the freedom of choice.

Along with its place in legislature, Cooperative Federalism is also seen within the executive branch of government. The federal government grants works together with the states to enforce certain laws and the states are allowed to take their own approach. Law enforcement is an example of how Cooperative Federalism is used with the executive branch. For instance, federal and state government cooperate on enforcing laws such as drug laws. Both levels of government are held responsible for enforcing these laws by using federal agents and local police. The local police play a large role in law enforcement in the US which shows how the federal and state governments can come together to approach one goal. States are empowered by this aspect of Cooperative Federalism because they are given the power to act under federal law.

Although there are examples of the state and federal governments cooperating, there is also evidence that support the federal government still having an unequal amount of power over the states. While states do have the power to do things such as set their own rules for law enforcement and implement policies in their own way, federal governments are usually a large source of funding for state activities. This causes states to sometimes feel that the federal government is still in control over them in a way that is not cooperative. Though the federal government provides funding for states, it is often times regulated by the federal government in a way that states must follow certain guidelines to obtain the funding. Though this seems necessary to make sure that federal money is being used in the most effective way, it limits the power of the states in a sense. Cooperation can be viewed in different ways and in the US although the states and local governments act cooperatively, the federal government remains more powerful in many ways.

When it comes to cooperation in state and local activities there are many instances where the state and federal government must come together to produce activities that benefit the citizens. They do this by creating guidelines and setting out goals that need to be accomplished and then creating budgets for these activities. When the goals of the activities are decided by the state they are presented to the federal government in order to acquire funding. The national government will then decide whether or not to provide funding for these activities through grants. Grants are financial assistance provided by the government in order to fund activities and programs, there are different types of federal grants including categorical grants and block grants. Categorical grants are grants that can only be used for a specific purpose, the majority of federal assistance to state governments is in the form of categorical grants. Block grants can be used for a wide range of general government services rather than specific programs. With block grants, state and local governments are allowed to use their own discretion with how the funds are allocated with very little interference from the federal government. These grants are much less likely. When state and local governments are given these grants they can do things such as fix roads, implement new educational programs and fund welfare in their regions. The federal government plays its part by ensuring that the programs are accomplishing the goals that they were meant to accomplish and that the funding is being used effectively. This is an example of how the federal, state and local governments cooperate with each other to accomplish goals.

Cooperative Federalism was put into place so that the federal government did not grow too powerful and so that the states would not lose their individual authority. The federal government cooperates with state governments in order to achieve goals and make improvements on the country for the citizens. The previous paragraph mentions how states ask the federal government for funding for their activities and programs which is one way that the states cooperates with the federal government. The federal government will also on occasion offer the state's money to carry out a federal agenda on the state level. On a page of Legal Dictionary title Categorical Grants[4] there is an example of cooperative federalism provided. In this example, the federal government desired to make the roads safer by implementing a seat belt program (for example “Click it or ticket”[5]). In order to do this without taking away the state’s individual power, the federal government offered money to states to implement this program in their own way under federal guidelines. This allowed the states to work along with the federal government rather than the federal government deciding on one way that all the states would implement this program. Although the federal government still has the power to step in, the states are mainly in charge of implementing these programs and accomplishing the goal of making the roads safer for the citizens.

Although there are many examples of cooperative federalism at work in today’s government, some still argue that the federal government has too much power and that more of that power needs to be given to the states. Many conservative Americans feel that the federal government still oversteps its boundaries and acts in “federal supremacy” over the states. For example, for years in the past states were allowed to define what marriage meant in their individual state. This lead to some states allowing same-sex marriage and some states declaring that marriage is only legitimate in their state between a man and a woman. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage would be legal in all 50 states. Some states such as Texas and Alabama objected this ruling. These states claimed that by making this ruling the federal government infringed upon their right to individually define marriage in their state. Although some states fought, the ruling still held strong and same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. This example of how the federal government can step in and make decisions that they feel are constitutional and benefit the citizens. Some view this instance as evidence that cooperative federalism is a myth and the federal government obtains an unequal amount of power.

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There is evidence to support the claim that cooperative federalism is active in the US today as well as evidence that supports the claim that the US still relies on a strong central government and state and local governments do not have as much power as they should have. Overall, the federal, state, and local governments rely on each other to try to improve the citizens and whether or not the powers are divided equally, each level of government needs the others to fully make changes. The argument of more state’s rights vs. a stronger central government is one that has been occurring since this country began and it is one that will probably continue in the future. Powers shift between the different levels of government in order to best benefit the citizens.When the citizens express their lack of satisfaction with things like education, welfare, and other government issues a shift of power will likely occur and because of the many different beliefs and views in this country, those powers will constantly shift between the levels.

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The Concept of Cooperative Federalism and Its Activity in the United States. (2018, October 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
“The Concept of Cooperative Federalism and Its Activity in the United States.” GradesFixer, 02 Oct. 2018,
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