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Donald F. Kettl  |  Columnist

Email : kettl@austin.utexas.edu Twitter : @DonKettl

Donald F. Kettl, a columnist for Governing, is the Sid Richardson Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously, he served as the dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, a nonresident senior fellow at the Volcker Alliance and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Kettl, who holds a Ph.D. and master's degrees in political science from Yale University, is the author of several books, most recently The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn't Work (2020) and Can Governments Earn Our Trust? (2017).

Washington Watch

Little Boxes Everywhere

5G technology will bring challenges for local government all the way down to the neighborhood level.

August 26, 2019
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Washington Watch

Reality TV Politics

Soundbites and slogans might work in Washington, but closer to home voters expect results.

September 1, 2019
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Washington Watch

Red America, Blue America: Why Political Polarization Will Only Worsen

Liberal and conservative states are both stirring things up. Very different things.

August 6, 2019
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Washington Watch

Natural Disasters and Distrust

In an emergency, government must convince people it knows best for them. That's easier said than done.

June 4, 2019
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Washington Watch

Why Talking About Health Care Is Hard for 2020 Candidates

The biggest issue is difficult to debate, and it's not "Medicare for all."

April 1, 2019
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Washington Watch

Why Rebuilding 'Bigger and Better' After Disasters Is a Mistake

Communities destroyed by natural disaster all want to start over. Somebody has to pay for it.

February 13, 2019
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Washington Watch

'Jenga Federalism': Trump's Method for Undoing Obama's Policies

The White House has learned that there’s more than one way to attack a liberal-leaning federal government.

December 5, 2018
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Washington Watch

Trump's Failed Infrastructure Plan Is a Wasted Opportunity

The president's trillion-dollar proposal could have been a signature achievement.

October 4, 2018
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Washington Watch

How Do We Regulate Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies?

The digital currency market is changing so fast that any misstep could be huge.

August 10, 2018
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Washington Watch

Programs Like D.A.R.E. and Scared Straight Don't Work. Why Do States Keep Funding Them?

There's a better way for governments to focus on effective initiatives.

June 14, 2018
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Commentary

For Future Federal Drug Policy, Look to California

The problems associated with legalizing marijuana are seen on a much bigger scale in the state.

April 12, 2018
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Commentary

The Truth About Rising Health Premiums

Obamacare isn’t the reason they’re going up. It’s state policies.

February 9, 2018
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Commentary

Whose Disaster Is It?

No one wants to pay for natural disasters. But even small-government proponents may have to accept increased federal involvement.

December 4, 2017
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Washington Watch

3 Events That Shaped Modern Federalism

Over a generation, there’s been a sea change in the way cities, states and the feds deal with each other.

October 12, 2017
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Washington Watch

Infrastructure Lessons From One of the Nation’s First P3s

A 75-year-old highway project offers clues to solving a critical present-day problem.

August 18, 2017
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Washington Watch

Mission Compromised: Trump’s Nasty Dilemma

If his current proposals succeed, his supporters are in for a rude awakening.

June 1, 2017
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Washington Watch

The New Nullifiers: Democrats

Suddenly it’s the left that’s talking about defying federal law. The reversal raises a host of questions.

April 6, 2017
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Washington Watch

Trump Era May Become the 'Once-Great Society'

Much of what the new administration wants to change was built by Lyndon B. Johnson.

February 1, 2017
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Washington Watch

Trump’s Health-Care Dilemma

The president-elect and his Republican Congress will surely change health care -- but first, they have to decide how.

December 1, 2016
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Washington Watch

What Kaine or Pence Will Bring to the Vice Presidency

As the first governor on the job in almost half a century, either one of them will present new opportunities for the White House.

October 3, 2016
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Washington Watch

What a Box of Honey Nut Cheerios Says About Today’s Politics

The cereal’s new look shows how and why one small state could change the rules nationwide.

August 22, 2016
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Washington Watch

Lobbyists Leave Capitol Hill for the States

Money that lobbyists once spent in Washington is being redeployed to fight battles in state capitals.

June 2, 2016
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Washington Watch

College Debt and the People Presidential Candidates Have to Win Over Most

Presidential contenders have plans for making college more affordable. But it's an issue not easily solved from the Oval Office.

April 6, 2016
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Washington Watch

Private-Market Misfires and Misconceptions

When government lets the market fix policy problems, it often fails.

February 3, 2016
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Washington Watch

The Gap Between What Voters Want and Who They Support

The governors running for president possess what voters are looking for -- yet all of them are struggling in the polls.

November 24, 2015
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Washington Watch

When It Comes to Wildfires, Collaboration Causes Confusion

The strategy that's improved the management of fires has, paradoxically, made it harder to know who’s really in charge of putting them out.

October 1, 2015
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Washington Watch

How Hurricane Katrina Made the Feds More Powerful

In the decade since the storm, the federal government's involvement in disaster relief has risen -- and so have tensions with localities.

August 1, 2015
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Washington Watch

Are Schools Overregulating What Students Eat?

A recent incident involving Double Stuf Oreos highlights the debate about how much supervision of children is too much.

June 1, 2015
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Washington Watch

Are States Still 'Labs of Democracy'?

The growing role of federal waivers suggest the answer isn't simple.

April 1, 2015
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Washington Watch

Is Federalism Breaking Down?

Bad intergovernmental relations have the United States headed for fiscal disaster.

February 1, 2015
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Washington Watch

The Police Problem Hiding behind the Humvee

The militarization of police has come under fire, but it’s just a distraction from the real civil rights issues.

December 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

Paul Ryan Declares War on the War on Poverty

The Wisconsin Congressman's bold anti-poverty plan picks battles with conservatives and liberals, reducing its chances of passage.

October 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

Why a VA Scandal Is Unlikely to Happen at the Local Level

Measuring performance is hard to do. But it's even harder to do when you're measuring it from hundreds of miles away -- as is the case for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

August 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

How Much Can (and Should) Government Protect People from Natural Disaster?

By letting citizens live in vulnerable places even after disaster strikes, governments plant the seeds for future disasters.

June 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

Is a Constitutional Convention in the Works?

More than 225 years after the first one, states are considering whether to call a second as a way to rein in the feds. But no one really knows what a convention can and can’t do and how it would work.

April 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

How the Feds Finally Reduced Crime on Indian Reservations

The feds set a goal of reducing crime on tribal reservations by 5 percent. Here’s how they brought it down by more than 700 percent.

February 1, 2014
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Washington Watch

Leaving ‘No Child’ Far Behind

In the decade since the parties put politics aside to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, education policy has gone from pragmatic consensus to ideological division.

October 1, 2013
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Washington Watch

Governments Embrace More and More Revenue Schemes

The combination of a limping economy and tight federal budgets has led many state and local governments to ever more imaginative -- and risky -- revenue sources like violence and buzzkill taxes.

August 1, 2013
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Washington Watch

Boston Marathon Bombing Highlights Homeland Security Done Right

In the immediate aftermath of the blasts, several fundamental lessons were relearned.

May 31, 2013
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Washington Watch

GOP Governors Ask ‘What Would Reagan Do?’

Furious at Washington gridlock and seeking to get their party back on top, Republican governors -- like President Ronald Reagan before them -- are waging an anti-tax campaign aimed at the income tax.

March 29, 2013
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Washington Watch

Local Pot Laws Conflict with National Policies Worldwide

The United States isn't the only place where local marijuana policies clash with national laws. Even Amsterdam and the Dutch government have struggled with this tension. Read the rest of Governing's first-ever International Issue here.

January 31, 2013
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Columns

The Top 5 State-Local Issues Facing the Feds

In the next four years, state and local governments are going to be at the very front of domestic policy -- especially on issues like health care where the feds have gotten most of the headlines.

November 30, 2012
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Washington Watch

Global Libor Scandal Cost States and Localities Millions

State and local governments have sued banks, claiming that they cheated them out of enormous investment returns at a time when their budgets were already badly damaged from the recession.

September 28, 2012
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Washington Watch

Whooping Cough’s Comeback Raises Questions

How states’ decisions to not require vaccinations and general budget cuts to public health have impacted the nation’s ability to prevent, track and treat disease outbreaks.

July 31, 2012
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Washington Watch

States Have 20th-Century Revenue Systems

States can no longer rely on federal bailouts or taxes. For the latest on state revenues, click here.

May 31, 2012
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Washington Watch

Insourcing Jobs Can Only Happen with States’ Help

Much of President Barack Obama's federal effort to bring jobs back home depends on states' ability to educate and train workers.

March 30, 2012
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Washington Watch

The Plastic Bag Ban: A Battle of Socio-Economic Policy

This latest skirmish shows how localities, not the feds, are driving eco-policy.

January 31, 2012
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Washington Watch

2012 Presidential Candidates Challenge Mandates

Republicans and Democrats call for fewer mandates. Both parties, however, have yet to answer fundamental questions about what government should do and how it should pay for it.

November 30, 2011
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Washington Watch

2011 May Mark the End of Federal Aid

The modern era of federal aid championed by President Nixon and his “new federalism” program draws to a close.

September 30, 2011
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Washington Watch

China Looks West for Performance Management

China embraces performance management in an effort to wring out greater productivity and transparency.

July 29, 2011
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Washington Watch

The Policy Battle Behind Chocolate Milk

As schools opt for healthier lunch options, governments are pitted against the powerful dairy industry.

May 31, 2011
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Washington Watch

Bankruptcy's Bank Shot

What connects government default, short selling and union bashing?

March 31, 2011
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Washington Watch

Medicaid, Incentives and the Future of Federalism

States are unhappy with Medicaid costs, but they’re not willing to surrender federal incentives to cut them.

February 1, 2011
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Washington Watch

Dealing With Deficits in Anti-Big Government Administrations

Governors who campaigned against stimulus spending face hard choices.

December 1, 2010
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Washington Watch

Domestic Duel

If you look behind the headlines, the presidential campaign is very much a clash of domestic ideology.

October 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

Why States and Localities Are Watching the Lower Federal Courts

Court cases rarely travel up to the Supreme Court, so lower courts are often the last stop for controversial cases.

October 1, 2010
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Washington Watch

What Really Matters in Health-Care Reform

Health-care politics continues to grab headlines, but what's important lies elsewhere.

June 1, 2010
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Washington Watch

A Decade To Remember

10 years, 10 highlights for federalism.

February 1, 2010
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Washington Watch

Which One is Your Pal?

The presidential candidates' speeches provide few clues about their views on federal-state relations.

August 1, 2000
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Washington Watch

Dusting Off 'Dignity'

How much further can the U.S. Supreme Court go on states' rights?

August 1, 2002
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Washington Watch

Government by Traffic Light

The Bush administration's performance-measurement plans may mean a new challenge to state and local control.

April 1, 2002
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Politics & Elections

A Long Way From Austin

You'd think presidents who used to be governors would cut the states a break. It never seems to happen.

April 1, 2003
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Washington Watch

Sacramento Rules

While Congress and the EPA fight political wars, states are making the crucial environmental decisions.

December 1, 2002
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Washington Watch

Is the Past Prologue?

This year's election could have the same profound impact on American politics as the 1896 presidential contest.

December 1, 2000
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Washington Watch

The Battle of Compassion

Suddenly, the GOP is the party of grassroots social action.

October 1, 2000
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Washington Watch

Unreliable Source

Thirty years ago, we wanted to control 'new source' air pollution in the worst way. That's about what we did.

June 1, 2003
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Washington Watch

Putting Bush to the Test

The next four years may alter the state-federal relationship for decades to come.

February 1, 2001
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Washington Watch

'West Wing' Fallout

When a TV show deals with the risks of nuclear storage, it can tip an already unstable political balance.

June 1, 2002
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Washington Watch

Unconnected Dots

State and local governments aren't being let in on the national homeland security strategy. That may be because there isn't one.

April 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

Bush and The 50 Beggars

States are beseeching the White House for some dollars to tide them over while they get back on their feet. The White House isn't going for it.

February 1, 2003
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Politics & Elections

Machine Politics

Technology alone won't fix what's wrong with our voting procedures.

February 1, 2006
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Washington Watch

Federalism, Anyone?

No Child Left Behind represents a major change in state-federal relations. But it may not be a good campaign issue for the president.

February 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

More than the Flu

This fall's vaccine shortage was an early warning of more serious trouble in the nation's public health systems.

December 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

Devolve and Protect

Governmental power has been decentralizing for 20 years now. Some think that's over. They should think again.

December 1, 2001
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Politics & Elections

Election-Reform Quagmire

No one disputes that voting procedures need some serious reform. But whose job is it to fix them?

October 1, 2001
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Washington Watch

The States and the Senate

Last month's `summit' meeting started on the subject of taxes. But it ended with a much broader challenge.

April 1, 2000
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Washington Watch

Real-Life Federalism

The key to sensible government reform is refocusing the system around results.

August 1, 2001
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Washington Watch

Radical Federalist

When it comes to relations between the states and Washington, the Reagan era is still going on.

August 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

Innovation Freeze

We've come to depend on states as the source of new policy ideas. They aren't producing many right now.

October 1, 2003
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Washington Watch

The Next Welfare Debate

We've learned a lot about cutting caseloads. The next step is to focus on keeping people out of poverty.

June 1, 2001
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Washington Watch

Tribes And War Chests

Once political outcasts, Native Americans are now big players in state campaigns.

December 1, 2003
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Washington Watch

Litigation-Based Federalism

The tobacco and gun lawsuits stand the traditional checks-and-balances system on its ear and marginalize Congress.

February 1, 2000
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Washington Watch

Grappling Over Power

Worried about a repeat of California's rolling blackouts, the feds have pushed the states to create new super-grids.

February 1, 2002
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Washington Watch

Polar Campaigning

Centrism is smart presidential politics. But it's ideological zeal that dominates the state electoral scene these days.

June 1, 2004
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Washington Watch

Connecting the Dots

The feds can create a new security agency. But they can't make us secure. That has to happen at the grassroots.

October 1, 2002
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Washington Watch

Madates Forever

Congress promised to stop imposing mandates on states and localities without paying for them. But the temptation is irresistible.

August 1, 2003
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Washington Watch

Having Faith in Faith

The way to evaluate the president's initiative is by what it achieves, not how it's organized.

April 1, 2001
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Washington Watch

Reform, American Style

Reinventing government from the bottom up is excruciatingly hard. But in the long run, it may be the best way.

June 1, 2000
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