Who Controls What in Government

GOVERNMENT TOUCHES OUR LIVES every day by keeping our schools going, our water running, and our armed forces strong. Different services are usually provided by different layers of government.

The United States has a federal system, meaning authority is distributed between a federal (national) government and state and local governments. While the U.S. Constitution gives the most power to the federal government, it reserves a lot of control for states. States in turn leave many matters up to local governments.

The information below explains some of the most important functions of each level of government. It also highlights services that work thanks to shared responsibilities among the levels as well.


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The Nation’s Airways 
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aircraft, licenses pilots, and controls air traffic among some 20,000 airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ensures security on flights by screening passengers and baggage.

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National Security 
The Department of Defense oversees the armed forces. Homeland Security watches the nation’s borders. Together, they help keep the United States safe—and defend the country in the event of an attack.

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Currency Production 
The Treasury Department operates the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Mint. Their facilities manufacture our money, both paper bills and coins.

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Foreign Affairs 
The president, assisted by the State Department, has sole power to conduct relations with other countries, including negotiating treaties. Congress ratifies treaties and declares war.


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Motor Vehicles 
Regulations on the day-to-day operation of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buses come from states. Each state issues driver’s licenses and makes sure that vehicles are legally registered, safe to drive, and follow state standards of pollution control.

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Electoral College
This is how the U.S. president is really elected. Each state appoints a number of electors to the Electoral College based on its population. In most states, the electors vote for the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes from citizens in that state.

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Doctors and Hospitals
All states have departments of health that set standards for hospitals and license doctors.

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Amendment Ratification
Congress proposes amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but at least 38 of 50 state legislatures must approve them before they can become part of the Constitution.


First Responders 
From 911 operators to police and fire departments, most first responders to emergencies in your community are part of local government. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) usually work for local hospitals or for fire or police departments.

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If you go to a public library, hang out in a neighborhood park, or play on a sports field, chances are that it is maintained by your city or county.

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Public Services 
Somebody has to make sure streets are cleaned, trash is collected, snow gets plowed, and homes and businesses have running water. These essential services are typically handled by local governments.

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Almost any way you get around town is usually regulated by your city or county. This includes public transportation like buses and trains. Local governments also maintain streets by filling in cracks and potholes.


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Our government runs on taxes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects them for the federal government. States collect taxes for state and local expenses.


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Disaster Relief
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates with city and county agencies to assist after floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters.


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Public education is one of the most important responsibilities of states, which set standards and provide a lot of the funding. Local officials and school boards oversee the schools themselves.


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Fighting Crime
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), state troopers, and local police all help keep the peace.