Government Roles and Tools How big is it

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Government Roles and Tools

Government Roles and Tools

How big is it

What is it (fed-state-local etc.)

What does it do

How does it do it

Important Terms / Concepts / Topics

Meaning of marble cake versus layer cake federalism

Discretionary spending, Entitlement program / spending

Different primary policy areas of federal, state, and local governments

Direct vs. indirect government tools

Types of indirect tools and the definition / meaning of each:

contracts / contracting out, grants, loans, regulations, tax expenditures

How to View the American Federal System

Traditional way: Layer cake—compartmentalized functions

Marble cake—division of functions intricately mixed

Kettl/Fesler: neither layer nor marble, rather, different levels of government concentrating on different services

The Vast Functions of Government

Government functions include those of the SSA, FDIC, FAA

Case: Flu vaccine shortage

What levels of government were involved in the vaccine process?

What levels of government should be responsible for correcting shortages in the future?

The Federal Government

Federal government concentrates spending in far fewer categories

Huge increase in entitlement program spending (on programs such as Medicare, to which individuals are “entitled” by law) over last four decades

Huge decrease in defense spending over the last four decades

Entitlements, defense, and interest on the national debt = 89 percent of federal spending

Federal Spending:
Discretionary vs. Entitlement

A large part of the federal government is responsible for writing checks.

A small share of federal employees manage entitlement programs.

The federal budget details what the government does but not how it does it.

State Governments

Unlike federal spending, state spending patterns have remained relatively constant.

States concentrate their services on welfare, higher education, and highways.

States play a major banking role by receiving federal grants and administering them.

Local Governments

In 2002, there were more than 86,000 local governments.

Unlike other levels of government, local government is singularly devoted to the direct delivery of services (services provided directly to citizens, such as police and fire protection, education, and hospital care).

Primary spending is on elementary and secondary education, health, hospitals, welfare, and utilities.

In 2006, local governments spent $1.4 trillion on education, which was 36 percent of total budget

Local Governments are the most heavily involved in direct provision of citizen services.

Government Tools

Some activities can be handled directly by a single level of government or a single agency

E.g. Department of State for passports

But many require cooperation of multiple government levels and / or private corporations

The Tools of Government

It is possible to view government as a collection of basic tools.

Direct tools: government provides goods and services, income support, interest on the national debt, direct loans.

e.g., Police and fire protection

Indirect tools: contracting out of government programs to nongovernmental partners and funding grant, voucher, and loan programs.

Direct Administration

Most people equate direct administration with public administration.

Direct administration is only a small part of government activity at the federal level.

Direct administration is more prevalent at the state and local levels.

Indirect Administration: Federal Grants

Federal grants: the federal government provides financial assistance to another level of government.

Grants are the oldest, most widely used tool that the federal government employs to carry out public policy.

e.g., Supports states providing medical care for the poor

Indirect Administration: Contracts

Contracts: the government agrees to pay a certain amount of money in exchange for a good or service.

Government must set the standards for contracts, negotiate effective programs at low prices, and oversee the results that contractors produce.

e.g., Construction of roads by local governments

Indirect Administration: Regulations

Regulations: federal compendium of rules that expand government’s power while expending relatively little money

Code of Federal Regulations consists of more than 200 volumes

e.g., 20 volumes of rules on agriculture

Indirect Administration:
Tax Expenditures

Tax expenditures: give individuals and taxpayers special advantages in paying their taxes

Creates incentives for social and economic policies

e.g., Tax expenditure that reduces the cost of homeownership encourages taxpayers to buy rather than rent their homes

Indirect Administration:
Loan Programs

Loan programs: the federal government and, to a lesser extent, other levels of government provide financial assistance

Began during the Great Depression and grew in the 1970s

e.g., Guaranteeing student loans

Implications for Public Administration

The job of government varies by level.

Local: direct provider of goods and services

State: intermediary as well as a direct provider of goods and services

Federal: provider of national defense and has a transfer function

Implications for Public Administration (continued)

The job of government varies by function.

Direct provision: most administrative action is internal to the government’s bureaucracy

Transfer programs: involves extensive action external to the government bureaucracy and determines the size of the check that the law entitles a recipient

Implications for Public Administration (continued)

The job of government varies by who finally provides the goods and services.

Difference between who provides a service, by creating and paying for it, and who produces it, by actually administering the service

Government by proxy: the use of third-party agents to administer programs that the government funds

Different types of programs: transfer programs, government by proxy, directly administered programs


Government’s ability to manage is now more complex.

Involves a web of intricate relationships

Demonstrates an increasing reliance on indirect tools

Focuses on accountability and performance measurement

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