What is Federalism?

What is Federalism?

The United States Census: Unifying Public Administration Between Federal and State Governments

In the United States, Federalism describes the evolving relationship of shared authority that exists between the federal government and the state governments. In the United States, Federalism has evolved where the Federal Government has superior power to state governments. Although the Federal government has sovereignty over state governments the local governments still create their own laws and policies and thus have public administration processes. This unique situation that federalism brings with it many challenges to creating policy and law the cooperation amongst branches of state and federal agencies. One of the most overlooked services and perhaps one of the most important tools for unifying government is the United States Census Bureau.

The United States Census Bureau is a government agency charged with the mission of being the leading source of data about the nation’s people and economy. The United States Census Bureau is mandated by the United States Constitution under Title 13 of the US code. It is responsible for the actual counting of people living in the United States which includes: citizens, non-citizen legal residents, long-term visitors, and illegal immigrants. The bureau, as part of this counting process, also gathers national demographics, and economic data. The Census Bureau performs a census every 10 years. This is for the population and Housing census. Economic Census data is collected every five years and an American community survey is collected annually (Census, 2009).

The census bureau conducts its work in an open manner but serves to protect the privacy of all citizens. From its mission the Census Bureau has developed policies to set standards and safeguard the manner in which its mission is carried out. The function and political dynamics of the organization can best be viewed through the understanding of the bureau policy process. The census is an organization of distributive policy which gives the bureau a favorable political dynamic within government and its clientele. As a distributive bureau, the census scope of policy is limited to setting standards for data collection and circulation of information (Meier and Bohte, 2007).

In this narrow policy structure the Census bureau has become one of the most efficient and powerful bureaus in the federal government. As a distributive organization the Bureau finds support from all sectors of government as it is constantly referenced for statistical information. This function has lead to an interesting political dynamic in which government administrators rarely find reason to attack the census bureau. The census bureau operates in a truly neutral atmosphere because its policy scope limits the organization to one primary purpose and because the bureau provides valuable statistical information to other agencies (Meier and Bohte, 2007).

Whereas an agency such as the IRS finds itself constantly at odds with other agencies and vying for political and economic support, the census bureau rarely finds itself in these heated areas of debate. The simple reason for this lack of conflict is that all other agencies need and use census information in designing their own rules, policies, and strategies. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses census information when developing strategies for community development. Such information as socioeconomic status and demographics must be used when HUD plans expansions of particular areas. From a public administration standpoint the Census can be used to target specific population in specific areas. Policies dictating the use of federal funds are often based upon census obtained data.

It should be mentioned, as briefly stated before, that the bureau rarely if ever has the power to initiate policy. Policy initiation is not possible for the census as it serves a limited mission.

Principle of Mission Necessity: The U.S. Census Bureau will only collect information that is necessary for meeting the Census Bureau’s mission and legal requirements.

As well as being limited in mission, the large clientele of the bureau is so broad and general that there is no particular point of policy focus. In specific, the department of agriculture can work with its client base of farmers in order to initiate policies that would benefit both the department and the states it directs policies towards. In the case of the census, since the client base is the entire population there can be no specific area of policy focus.

As a result of the limited scope of policy and being a distributive bureau, the census exists in a favorable environment. There is little dispute between the census as other bureaus and the structure of the organization provides for the autonomous existence of the organization. In a sense all Americans are aware of the bureau but at the same time the organization is given little thought until information is needed. The census bureau unlike NASA does not constantly fear budget cuts and funding loss since the census bureau is necessary for information collection. In example, when the economy is in recession the research for space flight can be postponed as it is not seen as crucial. But, the census cannot be underfunded as the information that is derived from the bureau provides the statistical data needed to create budget appropriations and policy focus for federal and state funding.

The census bureau has a long history of assisting researchers, government agencies, and even citizens with population data. The organization is really in many ways a lynchpin between federal and state government administration since it is often used to determine the direction of funding and focus of policy initiatives. Although the Census is a federal construct it also serves the purpose of providing states with invaluable data for directing their individual funding and programs.


The Census Bureau and Its Accountability, Phung Nguyen, The American Review of Public Administration 2007; 37; 226,

Census (2011) The United States Census Bureau

Politics and The Bureaucracy, Policymaking in the Fourth Branch of Government, Keneth J. Meier, John Bohte, 2007

United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Requesters, Information Technology Management, Census Bureau Has Implemented Many Key Practices, but Additional Actions are needed. GAO 05–61

By United States Census Bureau / Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos — Public Domain


Triola Vincent. Fri, Mar 12, 2021. What is Federalism? Retrieved from

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