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Picket Fence Federalism

Last Updated: 2006

This metaphor, coined by Terry Sanford, describes a feature of intergovernmental relations in which program specialists develop bonds with one another that transcend governmental jurisdictions. This model assumes a vertical distribution of power in the federal system with the federal government on top, states in the middle, and localities on the bottom. In this environment, program specialists such as highway engineers enjoy much more in common, share more similar perspectives, and have more regular contact with state and federal engineers than they do with other local professionals. As this relationship developed, program specialists become less responsive to the demands and directions of policy generalists, such as elected members of the executive and legislative branches.

This form of vertical functionalism developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s as federal aid to states and localities increased dramatically. Along with the increased funding, state and local bureaucracies were forced to become more professional, increased salaries, and implemented merit-based civil service systems.

SEE ALSO: Intergovernmental ManagementIntergovernmental Relations


Terry Sanford, Storm over the States (NewYork: McGraw-Hill, 1967).