Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Federalism of Persuasion

I would like to make a call for a new Federalism, which will redefine the role of the federal government to the states. It will be that of a more nuetral and non-partisan government that focuses on gathering data, promulgating (but not mandating) new polices, and more trusting of states to fulfill their own duties. It will be a Federal government that focuses less on how it spends money, because it will spend less. Instead, it will provide more discretion to the states to spend, but it will aggressively audit the spending to ensure that the taxpayers money is not wasted on frivolous or corrupt projects.

Currently, the federal government is a source of mandates, like the No Child Left Behind. I will use educational policy as an example to describe the new federalism. The NCLB act mandated all kinds of testing on our schools. It provided some money, but certainly not enough to fulfill the orders from DC. It is administered in a haphazardly and counter-productive fashion, becuase it is run inflexibly by Dept. of Eductaion bureaucrats in D.C. The new federalism would have handled things much differently.

First off, the focus would be on good policy, as divorced from the political process as possible (difficult as that may be). This is because there is no guarantee that the policy will be enacted. The implementation of the policy will be permissive. Instead of mandates and limited funds, there will be suggestions and block grants to the States to help their educational systems. Money sent from DC will only be very general. Money for facilites/equipment, teachers, or training. The states will receive the grants, and they can spend it as the choose in that general field. However, there will be very strict audit requirments by the folks in DC on documentation of how the money gets spent. This will be a federal job, and the feds will not only pay for their own auditors, but will also help provide a little additional money to the states to help them with the audit compliance requirments. The auditors will have the power to subpoena and investigate if they feel something fishy is going on. They can hold public hearings, which will be in the state, not in DC (the audit teams will be based in the staes, paid by the feds, with the HQ in DC). If there is misues of funds, it will be investigated and publicized in the local area. The state will then be penalized by having to give the money back, and hopefully the local state corruption will be rooted out.

This is more of a traditional balance of powers benefit. There is freedom to act by the state, but oversight to ensure responsible use of funds by the federal government. These policy departments will have a mix of political apointments and of career civil servants. Additionally, the political apointees will have fixed, multi-year terms (so they can outlast any particular executive leader and offer advice freely, without fear of offending the orthodoxy). There will be a range of 2 years to 10 years, which will ensure a eclectic mix of opinions. The agency will then issue their policy, based on a mix of the opinions of the career experts and the appointees. If the President doesn't like what he sees for political reasons, he can refuse to issue the report for that year (i.e. provide additional funding for adopting these measures). However, then the President will be exposed as against good policy. Naturally, the continued adherence to older policies will still be valid for additional federal funds.

The feds will also promulgate policy on a yearly basis. There will be policy plans issued, which wil focus on the areas the US most needs to tweak. It is not required to follow these policies. However, the policies will have a certain number of key points (say 10). If a state chooses to follow most of these (say 8 of 10), it will be entitled to additional funding from the feds for adopting what is believed to be a better and more rational policy. The policy arm of the feds will constantly liason with their counterparts in the states to reformulate their ideas. Additionally, while new polices will come out each year, the States themselves only have to adjust to follow the newest federal policy (in order to get the extra funds) once every 10 years or so. They can adpot earlier if they wish, but in order to avoid constant, yearly upheavels, they can wait. States that like a new idea can lead the reform, more cautious States can adpot only the tried and true methods. Such an operation is an incalculable boost to the laboratory of ideas that is our federal system.

Naturally, this should only be for most policies, not all. For example, Civil and Voting rights should be protected by the feds, and following such federal laws won't be optional. But with anything regarding basic administration, the control on such choices should lie with the states. Liberty and due process should remain protected by the federal government (in a meaningful wya, not like it is now with suspension of Habeus Corpus and basic due process).

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