Federalism: Overview | SparkNotes

Posted: May 11, 2021 at 10:47 pm

Federalism in the United States is a complex and ever-changing network of relations between national, state, and local governments. Federalism requires that state and local governments play a role in nearly every policy area. To fight the War on Terror, for example, the FBI, a federal organization, seeks to cooperate with state and local police forces. Worries about an impending avian flu epidemic have state health agencies and local hospitals working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Department of Health. Even federal tax cuts affect state governments because states rely on the federal government for financial help. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to figure out where one level of government ends and the others begin.

There are three ways to organize power among national (or central) and state (regional or local) governments: unitary, federal, and confederal. Unitary governments concentrate almost all government power into a single national government, whereas confederal system disperse government power to regional or local governments. The federal system, also known as federalism, divides power between national and state governments. Under federalism, each level of government is independent and has its own powers and responsibilities. Because it is often not clear whether a state or national government has jurisdiction on a particular matter, the national and state governments alternate between cooperating and competing with each other.

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Federalism: Overview | SparkNotes

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