Cooperative federalism is a concept of governance in which both federal and state governments share power over public policy issues.
This system, also known as marble-cake federalism, recognizes the authority of both levels of government while allowing them to cooperate in matters that may involve overlapping jurisdictions.
The most common examples of cooperative federalism are in the areas of environmental, education, and economic policy.
The concept is based on a division of powers between the states and the national government, whereby each has its own authority to make decisions within its domain.
For instance, the federal government is given certain exclusive powers, such as providing for national defense and regulating interstate commerce. Simultaneously, the states are setting educational standards or regulating intrastate trade.
Definition of Cooperative Federalism
Cooperative federalism is a system of governance where the national government and state governments work together to regulate public policy (Morris & Miller-Stevens, 2017).
It recognizes the authority of both levels of government while allowing them to cooperate in matters that may involve overlapping jurisdictions.
According to Marchbach and colleagues (2006), cooperative federalism is “a model of intergovernmental relations that recognizes the overlapping functions of the national and state governments” (p. 127).
Dual federalism “sees national and state governments working together to solve national problems” (Janda et al., 2021, p. 109).
In this system, each level of government has its own set of powers and responsibilities while still working cooperatively to promote mutual goals.
The federal government can provide national standards and regulations, while the states can still set their own policies. Such a system allows for a balanced approach to regulation and policy implementation across the country.
10 Examples of Cooperative Federalism
- Environmental policy: The Clean Air Act of 1970 provides a prime example of cooperative federalism by establishing national standards for air pollution administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Ryan, 2012). The states are then given the authority to set their limits and standards if they meet or exceed the federal standards.
- Education policy: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is an example of cooperative federalism in education policy (Bowles & McMahon, 2014). The federal government establishes standards for public schools to meet. At the same time, states can set their own curriculum and initiatives designed to help students achieve those goals.
- Social welfare policy: The Social Security Act of 1935 is a prime illustration of how federal and state legislation can collaborate to provide social welfare policy. While the federal government sets eligibility requirements and benefits, states are able to provide their own programs, such as cash assistance and food stamps (Ryan, 2012).
- Disaster relief: Following a natural disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works with state governments to provide resources for affected communities. So, while the federal government can respond quickly and often provide long-term assistance, state governments are better equipped to handle immediate needs like search and rescue operations (Bowles & McMahon, 2014).
- Transportation policy: The Federal Highway Administration works with state governments to design, build and maintain the nation’s highways. While the federal government sets standards for construction and safety, states can build roads for local needs.
- Immigration policy: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 is a prime example of cooperative federalism in immigration policy. The federal government sets the standards for U.S. immigration laws. Yet, at the same time, states are allowed to set their own regulations within those guidelines.
- Controlled substances policy: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 established uniform federal enforcement standards while allowing states to set their own regulations and penalties. Such cooperation between the federal and state governments has resulted in a more unified approach to controlled substances policy (Bowles & McMahon, 2014).
- Labor law: The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 is a crucial example of cooperative federalism in labor policy. While the federal government establishes the floor for collective bargaining and staff rights, individual states have broad discretion to regulate them further as they see fit. Consequently, employee rights may fluctuate depending on where they work (Ryan, 2012).
- Tax policy: The federal and state governments can work together and establish taxes. While the federal government sets income tax rates, states can set their own additional taxes, such as sales and usage taxes.
- Health care policy: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (also known as Obamacare) is a prime example of cooperative federalism. The federal government establishes a minimum standard of health care coverage that each state must abide by, while states are allowed to set their own policies, such as Medicaid eligibility requirements (Ryan, 2012).
Cooperative Federalism vs. Dual Federalism
While cooperative federalism means that both federal and state governments have authority over the same policy area, dual federalism (aka layer cake federalism) suggests that each government has distinct areas of jurisdiction (Schütze, 2013).
Cooperative federalism is a form of governance in which both federal and state governments have authority over the same policy area.
While the federal government is responsible for providing a framework and standards, states can tailor the policy to local needs.
Dual federalism, on the other hand, suggests that each government has distinct areas of jurisdiction (Schütze, 2013).
The federal government is responsible for national defense, foreign policy, and certain other issues, while the states regulate local matters such as education and public safety.
Cooperative federalism has become the dominant model in recent years, as it gives both government levels more flexibility to pursue their own policies while still adhering to the same general guidelines (Janda et al., 2021).
Dual federalism, however, is less common as it allows for a greater degree of tension between federal and state legislation. In some cases, this can lead to conflicting or overlapping regulations, creating confusion and a lack of uniformity.
Features of Cooperative Federalism
The main features of cooperative federalism include shared responsibility, flexibility, and collaboration.
It is a form of governance in which both federal and state governments have authority over the same policy area.
Here are the main features of this type of federalism:
- Shared Responsibility: Both the federal government and states share responsibility for policy development and enforcement. Each government level has its own authority, yet it works in collaboration to ensure that policies are effective and consistent across the nation (Marbach et al., 2006).
- Flexibility: This model allows both governments to tailor policies to local needs. Since the federal government establishes standards, states can implement programs that meet the requirements while still addressing their unique needsm (Morris & Miller-Stevens, 2017).
- Collaboration: This model also encourages collaboration between the federal and state governments. By working together, each level can ensure that policies are effective and uniform across states.
Advantages of Cooperative Federalism
Cooperative federalism has a number of advantages. It gives federal and state governments more flexibility to pursue their own policies while still adhering to the same general guidelines. Below are some advantages.
- Responsiveness: It allows each government level to tailor policies to local needs, making them more responsive to the public’s needs.
- Efficiency: By working together, federal and state governments can save time and money in developing and executing programs.
- Uniformity: By collaborating, both governments can ensure that policies are consistent across the nation. It helps ensure that policies are effective and makes them more accessible for citizens to understand.
- Accountability: It holds both the federal and state governments accountable for the policies they develop. By collaborating, each government can ensure that its policies are working effectively.
Disadvantages of Cooperative Federalism
Although cooperative federalism has several advantages, it also has some drawbacks, including decoupling of authority, uneven enforcement, and legal uncertainty. Below are some disadvantages
- Decoupling of Authority: Under this model of federalism, each government level has its own authority, which can lead to the decoupling of responsibilities. Such a situation makes it difficult for governments to coordinate efforts and creates confusion about who is ultimately responsible for policy development and enforcement.
- Uneven Enforcement: Since both federal and state governments are responsible for enforcing policies, there may be uneven enforcement across states. It can lead to poorly enforced or implemented policies, which undermines their effectiveness.
- Legal Uncertainty: The division between governments concerning policy creation and implementation can lead to legal uncertainty concerning the scope and practicality of laws. This disarray can breed confusion and weaken the potency of policies.
Cooperative federalism is a form of governance in which both the federal and state governments have authority over the same policy area. It is characterized by shared responsibility, flexibility, and collaboration.
However, this model has several advantages, such as responsiveness, efficiency, uniformity, and accountability. However, it also has some drawbacks, including decoupling of authority, uneven enforcement, and legal uncertainty.
By understanding the advantages and drawbacks of cooperative federalism, it is possible to create effective policies tailored to local needs while still adhering to the same general guidelines.
Ultimately, cooperative federalism can help ensure that policies are consistent across the nation and meet governmental and public needs.
Bowles, N., & McMahon, R. K. (2014). Government and politics of the United States. Palgrave Macmillan.
Janda, K., Berry, J. M., Goldman, J., Schildkraut, D. J., & Manna, P. (2021). The challenge of democracy: American government in global politics. Wadsworth.
Marbach, J. R., Katz, E., & Smith, T. E. (2006). Federalism in America. Greenwood Press.
Morris, J. C., & Miller-Stevens, K. (2017). Advancing collaboration theory: Models, typologies, and evidence. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Ryan, E. (2012). Federalism and the tug of war within. Oxford University Press.
Schütze, R. (2013). From dual to cooperative federalism. OUP Oxford.