Donald F. Kettl
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).
THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now
7 Steps to the Resurgent Federalism Biden Will Need
Without reinvigorating our tattered intergovernmental partnership, his administration will be doomed as it tries to tackle enormous, urgent and inescapable challenges.
THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now
The Big Federalism Challenges Facing a Biden Administration
He'll have his hands full from the start with issues that are likely to bring a rethinking of federal-state-local relations.
THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now
3 Keys to Getting the Federalism Conversation Going Again
The crippled response to COVID-19 is just one example of why we need to revive our ability to sort out the roles of the federal government and the states.
THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now
A Forum for Federalism That’s Sorely Missed
A tiny agency did important work on our intergovernmental system for decades. It's unlikely that the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations can be revived, but we still need what it did.
THE FUTURE OF What’s Happening Now
The Federalism Partnership That Is No More
There was a time when state and local governments could work out deals with Washington. But as the pandemic struggle illustrates, the glory days of big intergovernmental initiatives have ebbed away.
Little Boxes Everywhere
5G technology will bring challenges for local government all the way down to the neighborhood level.
Reality TV Politics
Soundbites and slogans might work in Washington, but closer to home voters expect results.
Red America, Blue America: Why Political Polarization Will Only Worsen
Liberal and conservative states are both stirring things up. Very different things.
Natural Disasters and Distrust
In an emergency, government must convince people it knows best for them. That's easier said than done.
Why Talking About Health Care Is Hard for 2020 Candidates
The biggest issue is difficult to debate, and it's not "Medicare for all."
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.
'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.
Trump's Failed Infrastructure Plan Is a Wasted Opportunity
The president's trillion-dollar proposal could have been a signature achievement.
How Do We Regulate Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies?
The digital currency market is changing so fast that any misstep could be huge.
For Future Federal Drug Policy, Look to California
The problems associated with legalizing marijuana are seen on a much bigger scale in the state.
The Truth About Rising Health Premiums
Obamacare isn’t the reason they’re going up. It’s state policies.
Whose Disaster Is It?
No one wants to pay for natural disasters. But even small-government proponents may have to accept increased federal involvement.
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.
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.
Mission Compromised: Trump’s Nasty Dilemma
If his current proposals succeed, his supporters are in for a rude awakening.
The New Nullifiers: Democrats
Suddenly it’s the left that’s talking about defying federal law. The reversal raises a host of questions.
Trump Era May Become the 'Once-Great Society'
Much of what the new administration wants to change was built by Lyndon B. Johnson.
Trump’s Health-Care Dilemma
The president-elect and his Republican Congress will surely change health care -- but first, they have to decide how.
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.
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.
Lobbyists Leave Capitol Hill for the States
Money that lobbyists once spent in Washington is being redeployed to fight battles in state capitals.
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.
Private-Market Misfires and Misconceptions
When government lets the market fix policy problems, it often fails.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are States Still 'Labs of Democracy'?
The growing role of federal waivers suggest the answer isn't simple.
Is Federalism Breaking Down?
Bad intergovernmental relations have the United States headed for fiscal disaster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Boston Marathon Bombing Highlights Homeland Security Done Right
In the immediate aftermath of the blasts, several fundamental lessons were relearned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
States Have 20th-Century Revenue Systems
States can no longer rely on federal bailouts or taxes. For the latest on state revenues, click here.
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.
The Plastic Bag Ban: A Battle of Socio-Economic Policy
This latest skirmish shows how localities, not the feds, are driving eco-policy.
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.
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.
China Looks West for Performance Management
China embraces performance management in an effort to wring out greater productivity and transparency.
The Policy Battle Behind Chocolate Milk
As schools opt for healthier lunch options, governments are pitted against the powerful dairy industry.
Bankruptcy's Bank Shot
What connects government default, short selling and union bashing?
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.
Dealing With Deficits in Anti-Big Government Administrations
Governors who campaigned against stimulus spending face hard choices.
Dusting Off 'Dignity'
How much further can the U.S. Supreme Court go on states' rights?
'West Wing' Fallout
When a TV show deals with the risks of nuclear storage, it can tip an
already unstable political balance.
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.
Government by Traffic Light
The Bush administration's performance-measurement plans may mean a new challenge to state and local control.
Grappling Over Power
Worried about a repeat of California's rolling blackouts, the feds
have pushed the states to create new super-grids.
While Congress and the EPA fight political wars, states are making the
crucial environmental decisions.
If you look behind the headlines, the presidential campaign is very
much a clash of domestic ideology.
Tribes And War Chests
Once political outcasts, Native Americans are now big players in state
We've come to depend on states as the source of new policy ideas. They
aren't producing many right now.
Is the Past Prologue?
This year's election could have the same profound impact on American
politics as the 1896 presidential contest.
The Battle of Compassion
Suddenly, the GOP is the party of grassroots social action.
Which One is Your Pal?
The presidential candidates' speeches provide few clues about their
views on federal-state relations.
Devolve and Protect
Governmental power has been decentralizing for 20 years now. Some
think that's over. They should think again.
Congress promised to stop imposing mandates on states and localities
without paying for them. But the temptation is irresistible.
Reform, American Style
Reinventing government from the bottom up is excruciatingly hard. But
in the long run, it may be the best way.
Thirty years ago, we wanted to control 'new source' air pollution in
the worst way. That's about what we did.
The States and the Senate
Last month's `summit' meeting started on the subject of taxes. But it
ended with a much broader challenge.
No one disputes that voting procedures need some serious reform. But
whose job is it to fix them?
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.
The key to sensible government reform is refocusing the system around
The tobacco and gun lawsuits stand the traditional checks-and-balances
system on its ear and marginalize Congress.
Centrism is smart presidential politics. But it's ideological zeal
that dominates the state electoral scene these days.
The Next Welfare Debate
We've learned a lot about cutting caseloads. The next step is to focus
on keeping people out of poverty.
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
Having Faith in Faith
The way to evaluate the president's initiative is by what it achieves,
not how it's organized.
When it comes to relations between the states and Washington, the
Reagan era is still going on.
Putting Bush to the Test
The next four years may alter the state-federal relationship for
decades to come.
State and local governments aren't being let in on the national
homeland security strategy. That may be because there isn't one.
More than the Flu
This fall's vaccine shortage was an early warning of more serious
trouble in the nation's public health systems.
No Child Left Behind represents a major change in state-federal
relations. But it may not be a good campaign issue for the president.
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.
Technology alone won't fix what's wrong with our voting procedures.
What Really Matters in Health-Care Reform
Health-care politics continues to grab headlines, but what's important lies elsewhere.
A Decade To Remember
10 years, 10 highlights for federalism.