In this section I’ll outline, as best I can, what the term “public policy” refers to, and specifically address these three questions.
What is public policy?What is the public policy process?What is policy analysis?Now, a definition
DefinitionPublic policy is a purposive and consistent course of action produced as a response to a perceived problem of a constituency, formulated by a specific political process, and adopted, implemented, and enforced by a public agency.
Some random, and possibly helpful, links: Wikipedia: Public PolicyAn online course in public policy.
At its simplest, public policy is the term used to describe what it is that governments do. Generally these are done in response to a demand that a certain thing be done, then the question becomes, how is this “thing’ best done.
A current example – as of April 2012.Why are we even dealing with Obamacare?
One answer is that for over 100 years there has existed support for universal access to health care and health insurance. The private sector does not an especially good job of providing benefits to the poor. Two decades ago, proposals were made that these ought to provided through the marketplace. Then after the election of 2008, and opportunity to create such a policy presented itself.
Now of course there are efforts to derail the policy through the courts. Which means that the effort to determine how to provide universal access to health insurance will be delayed until other ideas come forward.
This tells us that the public policy process is complex and sometimes never ending.
Here’s another definition: Public Policy is whatever governments choose to do or not to do.
Whatever it chooses to do can be done in various ways and can involve different mechanisms.Public agencies can be established, regulations can be imposed, felonies created, incentives provided, etc . . .
Every single thing governments do can be looked at as a policy issueexamples
Here are some Wikipedia pages on various national policy arenas: • Agriculture • Defense • Domestic • Drug • Economic • Education • Energy • Environmental • Food • Foreign • Health • Housing • Immigration • Industrial • Science • Social
As we know from looking at the Constitutions of the U.S. and Texas – as well as city charters – certain functions (powers / policies) are mentioned in each document.
Madison argued that the powers of the national government are few and defined and the powers of the states are many and undefined.
Two principal powers are delegated to the national government. These are primarily commercial and military. These are two categories of public policy that the national government is granted special jurisdiction over.
Through the elastic clauses, the national government has expanded authority over other areas of public policy, as long as they can be argued to relate to one of the delegated powers.The national government’s expansion into drug and civil rights policy is based on the commerce clause, for example.
States are granted jurisdiction over the reserved powers, which tend to fall under the heading of police powers: The power to regulate the health, safety, welfare and morals of a community.
Two major policy think tanks in TexasConservative: Texas Public Policy FoundationLiberal: Center for Public Policy Priorities
States also have the power to grant city charters, which allow them to determine what sorts of policies they can influence.
As a consequence, public policy exists within the broader context of federalism, which simply makes it even more complex.
Public policy becomes even more complex when you take into consideration party disputes. Many of the disputes between the parties come down to which problems they see as being worth intervening over and how they should be addressed.Democrats and Republicans tend to offer different positions on public policy matters as well as different theories about how public issues ought to be addressed. The also differ in terms of what actual problems exist that deserve governmental attention.
One way to approach the study of public policy is to think of it as a process – an ongoing process actually
Interesting website: A syllabus to Public Interest Writing, including a discussion of the public policy process.And a few other random web sources on the public policy process: thisnation.com, Hofstra, and some power points.
And for what its worth, The Laws of the Public Policy Process.Take this tongue in cheek.
Most scholars argue that there are five steps to the public policy process.
1 – Agenda Setting2 – Policy Formulation3 – Policy Adoption4 – Policy implementation5 – Policy Evaluation
As a point of comparison, here is an 8 step version of the process: Issue identificationPolicy analysisPolicy instrument developmentConsultationCoordinationDecisionImplementationEvaluation
And depending how the policy is evaluated – especially if the evaluation is very negative – the policy may wind up back on the public’s agenda and the entire process might begin all over again.
An example as I am writing this (4/22/12), in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing, the “stand your ground laws” which were used to justify it, are being reviewed in the public arena.
Let’s walk through the process and highlight the different actors in each step, as well as the different circumstances present in each step.
Before a policy issue can be dealt with, people have to not only become aware of it, but it has to presented in such a way that it poses a defined problem that has a solution that a government can address. It has to first come on the public’s agenda, and then on the government’s agenda.
For an example, you might want to click on the following long to Making an Issue of Child Abuse, which is the story of how child abuse became a public interest concern.
There can be multiple agents responsible for highlighting problems. Usually, the media play a huge role in agenda setting because their business is to communicate things that people want to hear. Here’s an academic approach to the issue of agenda setting.
There is tremendous competition to influence not only what the media covers, but how they cover it. How do they define a problem?
Example: When covering crime, is it dealt with as an individual moral problem based on bad decision making, or as a societal problem based on poverty and the lack of lawful ways to make a living?This distinction matters for how proposals to solve this issue will develop.
What is the exact problem that need to be addressed? And how is it to be address?
Some policies are addressed by establishing an institution to implement a – hoped for – solution. Others are proposed to be addressed by creating tax subsidies and deductions. These can make it seem as if there is no real government policy in place at all. For an example, read: The Hidden Welfare State.
Even more critically, it has to be proved that a particular issue presents a problem that has a solution, rather than a condition (a state of being) that simply has to be accepted because it has to real solution.
One of the functions of a think tank (see this list) it to generate ideas and proposals regarding public issues
Sometimes these issues become politicized, and people run for office promoting them. Members of the political branches – the legislative and executive branches – can be made to pay attention to these issues by constituents. If they don’t they can be defeated in elections.
Even though the national judiciary is supposed to be removed from politics, appointments are often based on the supposed judicial philosophies of the appointees. In Texas, the elected judiciary often takes explicit positions on policy issues. Tort reform for example.
But just because a law is proposed and introduced in Congress doesn’t mean that it will be taken seriously. It has to be supported – or opposed - by some vested interest.
The recently passed (as of spring 2012) STOCK Act had been introduced years before a 60 Minutes story put public opinion behind the bill and led to its passage.
Once an policy is on the agenda, it goes through the formation phase.