Search Menu




Federalism in the United States is a complex and ever-changing network of relations between national, state, and local governments. Federalism requires that state and local governments play a role in nearly every policy area. To fight the War on Terror, for example, the FBI, a federal organization, seeks to cooperate with state and local police forces. Worries about an impending avian flu epidemic have state health agencies and local hospitals working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Department of Health. Even federal tax cuts affect state governments because states rely on the federal government for financial help. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to figure out where one level of government ends and the others begin.

There are three ways to organize power among national (or central) and state (regional or local) governments: unitary, federal, and confederal. Unitary governments concentrate almost all government power into a single national government, whereas confederal system disperse government power to regional or local governments. The federal system, also known as federalism, divides power between national and state governments. Under federalism, each level of government is independent and has its own powers and responsibilities. Because it is often not clear whether a state or national government has jurisdiction on a particular matter, the national and state governments alternate between cooperating and competing with each other.





Unitary Concentrates all power in the hands of the national government; state governments (if they exist at all) merely follow the orders of the national government Japan, France, Sweden, Saudi Arabia
Federal Regional and national governments both have real power, but the national government is usually supreme over the regional governments United States, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, India, Germany
Confederal Diffuses nearly all the power to the state governments; the national government merely keeps the states loosely bound together The Confederate States of America, the United Nations, the European Union