The Delegated State and the Politics of Federal Grants

38 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


The lens of “pork barrel politics” dominates the scholarly literature on federal grant making. Researchers typically use congressional districts as the unit of analysis, and consider the relationship between the partisan or ideological orientation of members of Congress, federal bureaucrats, or the President and the amount of grant dollars awarded to congressional districts with similar ideological preferences. Although “pork” is a common frame of reference for the distribution of federal grant dollars, it is a narrow conception of the way federal grant dollars are allocated to state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and private institutions. Studies of federal policy show that the federal budget is shaped by long-term changes in the size and role of government. These changes may have much broader and stronger impacts on the distribution of federal grant dollars to communities than partisan politics. In particular, the rise of the delegated state — the federal government’s reliance on state and local governments as well as nonprofits for policy implementation — is likely to shape grant allocation. I assess the role of the delegated state, including nonprofit density, state capitals, and local government structure, in the distribution of federal grants to metropolitan areas from 1991 to 2010. I show that the delegated state plays a large role in explaining which places get a large share of federal grants and which places get fewer grants. The importance of the delegated state for federal grant allocation is particularly evident during the federal stimulus in 2009 and 2010.

Keywords: federal grants, federalism, nonprofits, stimulus, ARRA, metropolitan, delegated state

Suggested Citation

Reckhow, Sarah, The Delegated State and the Politics of Federal Grants (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Sarah Reckhow (Contact Author)

Michigan State University ( email )

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