Public Policy Process

Purpose of Course  showclose

The study of public policy is intended to offer every citizen an understanding of the various and vast roles played by the different branches of the U.S. federal government as well as by state, county, and local governments in various areas of contemporary American life.  It is also a field that focuses on the priorities of American society as portrayed in the public policy choices that elected representatives make on the part of citizens and the size of different interest groups that advocate on behalf of particular policy goals.  This course looks at the process of making public policy from beginning to end and in a wide array of particular policy areas that are of importance to contemporary American society.  Moreover, because the process of public policymaking is best explored by examining particular instances of public debate over a wide array of specific policy areas, this course will adopt a case study approach to explore particular topics.

Unit 1 will introduce this case study approach as well various actors involved in the making of American public policy and the process of setting the public policy agenda.  Unit 2 explores the process of public policy formulation be examining a variety of case studies, including energy and fuel economy policy.  Unit 3 examines the implementation of public policies once they have been agreed upon, the allocating of funding to pay for these projects through the budgetary process, and the evaluation of these projects to determine their effectiveness in achieving the goals they were established to advance.  Unit 4 explores various areas of American economic policy, while Unit 5 looks at several topics of interest in the field of national security policy.  Unit 6 examines various issues in contemporary American public health policy, while Unit 7 explores the public policy responses of the U.S. government to a number of environmental concerns.  Unit 8 looks at several topics of interest within the broader field of education policy, while Unit 9 focuses on aspects of public policy that impact rural communities.  Unit 10 concludes this course by exploring several areas of ongoing debate within American social policy, including immigration reform, civil rights legislation, and the criminal justice system.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to POLSC431: Public Policy Process.  Below, please find general information on this course and its requirements.

Course Designer: Levi Fox

Primary Resources:  This course is comprised of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials: Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Although all of the units will allow you to gain a foundational understanding of the public policy process, pay close attention to Unit 1, as it will lay the historical framework for future units.  You will also need to complete:
  • The Final Exam
Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assignments listed above.  In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 78.75 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 14 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 and 1.2 (a total of 9 hours) in week one; subunit 1.3 (a total of 5 hours) on Monday and Tuesday night of week two, etc.

Tips/Suggestions: While not an introductory course, POLSC431 is important to help prepare you for other courses in political science discipline related to public policy, so be sure to pay close attention to all course material.  To help make the most of your learning experience, please read all the materials and watch the videos in their entirety.  Take notes on each resource.  These notes will be useful as a review for to study for your Final Exam.  

Khan Academy  
This course features a number of Khan Academy™ videos. Khan Academy™ has a library of over 3,000 videos covering a range of topics (math, physics, chemistry, finance, history and more), plus over 300 practice exercises. All Khan Academy™ materials are available for free at

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  • Discuss and identify various key concepts in the process of American public policymaking and the major steps from start to finish in the public policy process.
  • Identify vital issues and specific areas of concern for contemporary American policymakers within the broad fields of economic, national security, public health, environmental, education, rural, and social policy.
  • Identify key actors and agencies involved in the making of public policy within the United States and their respective roles in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policy.
  • Analyze the various political, social, economic, military, legal, and ethical goals and cultural values that form the basis of policymaking decisions.
  • Identify key debates in contemporary American public policy as well as the issues at stake and the arguments advanced by each side of the debate.
  • Describe various decision frameworks used by policymakers in creating, developing, and executing various public policies.
  • Explain  the context, evolution, and linkages of specific policies and between certain polices within the broader context of American political history.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash)

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt., .xls, etc.)

√    Have competency in the English language

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed POLSC231: Introduction to American Politics

Unit Outline show close

  • Unit 1: Introducing Public Policy Actors and Agendas  

    Public policies are tools of governments used satisfy certain wants and needs of the citizenry that they cannot effectively satisfy individually or that are better served through collective action.  In contemporary American society, public policies are generally selected and adapted on a case by case basis, and to study the process of public policymaking, it is useful to explore a wide range of particular instances in which polices are debated, created, enacted, paid for, and redesigned.  The initial case studies help to summarize this policy process and to outline the key concepts that underlie the making of public policy in general in modern America.  While the areas in which government, through public polices, has played a role in people’s lives have greatly expanded in the last century, the ideological justification for these polices goes back to the debates over ratification of the constitution and what role government ought to play in American society, as shown in the selection from The Federalist Papers, while debates continue today about what the larger society owes to its members.  These debates inform the ideas and actions of policymakers.
    Public policy in America is made by an array of actors and institutions that each play a different role in the process of policymaking.  Most public policies are made in Congress (as well as state legislatures and city councils across the country) through the normal legislative process that begins with congressional committees debating the content and language of laws—often guided by lobbyists advocating for particular polices on behalf of specific interest groups.  After being crafted in committee, laws are sent to the full chamber for consideration, and if approved, these legislative public policies are debated again in the other house of Congress, after which a conference committee will settle any differences between the policy visions expressed in the versions of the bill.  The president will then sign the bill and, through the vast bureaucracy of the executive branch, will be responsible for carrying out these policies.  The role of the president in the public policy process, who often spearheads a legislative agenda through the use of the so-called “bully pulpit” afforded him by the media, has expanded greatly in the last century, as has the size of the federal bureaucracy that handles the day-to-day administration of these policies. 
    The creation of public policies begins with setting the policy agenda, which means selecting which issues are important enough for collective public actions and deciding what approach seems best for dealing with these concerns.  The process of setting the policy agenda includes a wide array of interest groups, including voluntary associations, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA); unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); and corporations, such as Microsoft—all of whom may hire lobbyists to advocate to legislatures in favor of particular policies.  The policy agenda may also be influenced by normal political debates between members of different parties who attempt to shape public opinion in favor of their party’s particular public policy planks.  Each of these actors is engaged in any attempt to frame policy problems in such a way that the wider public will support their viewpoint and their goals.

    Unit 1 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 1 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 1.1 What Is Public Policy?: A Brief Introduction to the Case Study Approach  
  • 1.1.1 Key Concepts in the Public Policy Process  
    • Reading: East Carolina University: Dr. Catherine Smith's “Public Policy Process”

      Link: East Carolina University: Dr. Catherine Smith's “Public Policy Process” (HTML)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, read the Key Concepts and Case 1 on the first page, and then click the link for Case 2 and the analysis for Case 2.  These key concepts and cases on food safety and state budgets offer a good introduction to the public policy process.
      This reading should take approximately 45 minutes to complete.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.1.2 The Purpose of Public Policies  
  • 1.1.3 Societal Values and Public Policy  
    • Lecture: Ethics in America: Episode 1: “Do Onto Others”

      Link: Ethics in America: Episode 1: “Do Onto Others” (Adobe Flash)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and select  the VoD icon next to “Do Onto Others” to watch this entire video (approximately 59 minutes), in which panel participants discuss community responsibility.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 1.2 Who Makes Policy: Institutions and Interest Groups  
  • 1.2.1 Roles in the Public Policymaking Process  
  • 1.2.2 Interactions between Public Policymaking Groups  
  • 1.3 Which Policies Become Public?: Examining the Policy Agenda  
  • 1.3.1 Setting the Public Policy Agenda  
  • 1.3.2 Framing Public Policy Problems  
    • Reading: East Carolina University: Dr. Catherine Smith's: “Framing the Problem”

      Link: East Carolina University: Dr. Catherine Smith's: “Framing the Problem” (HTML)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and read this entire webpage, which discusses the public policy agenda, and then click the “Learn More about the Purposes and Tasks Involves in Framing a Problem” link.  After reading that entire webpage, click the links on the right for the two scenarios for Purpose A and the two scenarios for Purpose B.
      Reading and note-taking should take approximately 25-30 minutes to complete.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 2: Public Policy Formulation  

    The study of how public policies are formulated explores the specifics of putting together policies that will then be enacted.  The formulation of policies involves debate among different interest groups representing the public, political parties representing the institutions of government, and the bureaucrats who are regarded as experts in their field based on their experience carrying out and studying public policies.  It is therefore important to understand the politics that go into debates of specific policies and the various skill sets utilized by policy analysts in assisting actors in formulating policy.  Of special interest is the phenomena of “iron triangles,” in which congressional committees charged with making policy, lobbyists whose job it is to influence policy, and bureaucrats who administer policies all work closely together with individuals—often moving from one group to another and often making the crafting of policies an insular process in which outside viewpoints are rarely voiced.  This process of different groups coming together to debate and formulate specific policies can be seen most clear through a series of case studies.
    The questions of how America should approach the often linked issues of energy and transportation policy are key to how the country will prosper in the future.  With gas prices skyrocketing and dependence on foreign oil being a continued drain on American industry, many policymakers have proposed pushing for investment in various new forms of green energy, such as wind and solar power, as a means of jump-starting the economy.  In addition to the rising cost of fuel, concerns over pollution have helped reinvigorate interest in hybrid vehicles and public transportation, despite the constant drain on resources that nearly all subway systems place on state and local governments.  How policymakers choose to focus America’s resources in the coming decades in order to answer these challenges will help determine the nation’s future.
    Exploring how Congress, interest groups, and bureaucrats work together to formulate public health and environmental policies can also yield valuable lessons about the process of public policy formulation in contemporary America, such as with the debate over funding prescription drugs for the rising Baby Boom generation of seniors.  International organizations also often impact American public policy in areas that impact the rest of the world, such as protecting dolphins, while the United States may very well require the assistance of such organizations in promoting sustainable population policies globally and creating a healthy environment for all humanity.  Scientific researchers also help shape the process of policy formulation, especially in certain areas, such as vaccination, where expertise is especially important to good policymaking.

    Unit 2 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 2 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 2.1 Key Concepts in American Public Policy Formulation  
  • 2.2 Introduction to the Formulation of American Energy and Transportation Policy  
  • 2.2.1 Formulating Energy Policy  
  • 2.2.2 Formulating Transportation Policy in California  
  • 2.3 Case Studies in the Formulation of Public Health and Environmental Policy  
  • 2.3.1 Formulating Prescription Drug and Dolphin Protection Policy  
  • 2.3.2 Formulating Environmental Policies to Protect Public Health  
  • 2.3.3 The Role of Expertise in Formulating Vaccination Policy  
  • Unit 3: Policy Implementation, Budgeting, and Evaluation  

    The final three aspects of the public policymaking cycle involve the implementation, budgeting, and evaluation of policies.  Policy implementation concerns the carrying out of policies once they have been created—a function that is generally performed by the federal bureaucracy but also falls to a number of agencies, institutions, and even courts in some cases.  The choices of how public policies are enacted and whether policies are enforced uniformly or selectively directly impact the effectiveness of these policies; thus, legislators often attempt to influence how policies are carried out by trying to reform bureaucracy.  Traditional public administration in the United States since the late 19th century, when civil service reform resulted in the end of the so-called spoils system, has been largely apolitical and focused on effective delivery of services to citizens but is often criticized as bloated and inefficient—often leading to attempts to streamline the federal workforce as a means of trying to cut public spending without cutting public services.
    The question of how to pay for the public policies that have been implemented is especially important to Congress, state legislatures, and local governments throughout the country that must pay for the services that their citizens demand while keeping taxes at levels those same citizens are able to afford.  The process of setting the budget also indicates national priorities as it demonstrates which policies we see as vitally important and which are negotiable depending on costs and current conditions.  Budgeting also involves trade-offs—most easily demonstrated through budget simulations—where each dollar cut in taxes is one less to spend on new military technology and each dollar spent on new military technology is one less to spend on public housing.  Another option available to Congress that is not to state and local governments is running a federal budget deficit, or spending more money than was taken in through taxes, resulting in an ever larger debt while eliciting heated debates throughout Congress and society.
    Comprehensive public policy evaluation is a relatively recent phenomenon that has largely grown out of attempts to improve on policy delivery as well as a desire among some to undue long-standing policies that they see as entrenched or which they disagree about for fundamental political reasons.  There are various types of evaluations that are carried out regularly, such as audits by internal and external sources, as well as one-time attempts to determine the effectiveness of policies over the short and long terms.  All these forms of evaluation are meant to measure whether the costs of a particular policy are justified by the benefits that it seems to provide for the public as well as to determine which policies should be continued as they are, which ought to be re-evaluated, and which should be terminated.  The process of evaluation is also the beginning of the next cycle of creating new public policies, as reports on the effectiveness of existing public policies form another basis for policymakers to judge what belongs on their next year’s agenda.  

    Unit 3 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 3 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 3.1 Putting Public Polices into Practice: Implementation  
  • 3.2 Paying for Public Policies: Budgeting  
  • 3.2.1 Overview of Public Policy Budgets  
  • 3.2.2 Simulating the Budget  
  • 3.2.3 The U.S. Federal Budget  
    • Reading: ThisNation.Com: “The Federal Budget”

      Link: ThisNation.Com: “The Federal Budget” (HTML)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and read this entire webpage, which introduces the U.S. federal budget.
      You should dedicate approximately 30 minutes to studying this resource.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 3.2.4 Budget Deficits  
  • 3.3 Analyzing the Effectiveness of Public Policies: Evaluation  
  • Unit 4: American Economic Policy  

    During times of economic strife, Americans tend to blame their elected representatives—often voting against sitting presidents and incumbent Congress members because they failed to manage the American economy successfully in the eyes of the public.  This is especially ironic because not only do individual politicians have little ability to impact the overall economy, but one of the major areas of economic policy that the government does have control over—monetary policy—is made not by elected officials but by the appointed members of the Federal Reserve System.  It is this independent government corporation, which was created in the 1910s out of concerns that bankers such as J. P. Morgan held too much power over the America economy, that sets the prime interest rate and can influence the value of the dollar by manipulating the money supply.  This degree of independent control over the economy has raised concerns among some that such chairmen of the Federal Reserve as Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, who are appointed to seven-year terms in order to increase their political independence, actually exercise too much influence.
    This political independence enjoyed by the makers of monetary policy is in stark contrast to the overtly political battles in the media and on the floor of Congress between Democrats and Republicans over issues of how much to tax the American public and how much to spend on providing government services to citizens. These ongoing battles over fiscal policy are as much ideological as they are economic, and they stretch back to the 1790s, when the first political parties were formed primarily over the issue of the size and scope of government.  Today, many who argue against government involvement in poverty reduction and job creation do so primarily because of a philosophical belief that such activities ought not be the responsibility of the federal government, while others believe that the government ought to provide even more public services than it already does. These political battles over economic policy can often become extremely heated and have even threatened to shut down the government on more than one occasion.
    Other areas of economic policy that are often very hotly debated concern American trade and development policy—despite the fact that politicians do not always have full control over these policy areas either.  The debate over whether to adopt free trade practices or protective tariffs has been ongoing in the United States since the early 19th century, with manufacturing interests often arguing that they needed help to protect American jobs.  The growth of imports from places such as China as well as the movement, especially since the 1970s, of American manufacturing jobs overseas have rekindled this debate over free trade and concerns over the growing trade deficit even as the United States has joined an increasing number of international economic organizations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.  Many of these groups also engage in international economic development programs, although they sometimes face criticism for taking too much control over the economies of developing nations and have even inspired violent protests against their policies. 

    Unit 4 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 4 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 4.1 Monetary Policy: How Much Is a Dollar Worth  
  • 4.1.1 Introducing Monetary Policy  
  • 4.1.2 The Federal Reserve System  
  • 4.2 Fiscal Policy: Taxes and Public Spending Programs  
  • 4.2.1 Fiscal Policies of the United States Government  
  • 4.2.2 Government Promotion of Job Creation in New York  
  • 4.3 International Trade Policy: American Government in the Global Economy  
  • 4.3.1 An Introduction to International Trade  
  • 4.3.2 American Trade and Development Policy  
  • 4.3.3 Debating Free Trade and Protectionism  
  • Unit 5: National Security Policy  

    Protecting the American public from foreign and domestic threats is largely the responsibility of the president in his role as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces and as well as through such executive branch agencies as the Department of State, which is responsible for the conduct of American diplomacy, and the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for protecting the country against terrorism and helping citizens in times of crisis created by natural disasters, such as hurricanes.  The powers of the president to take the country to war without congressional approval have been challenged in recent decades, stemming from conflict over the Vietnam War, which resulted in the War Powers Act of 1973.  However, through such agencies as the CIA and NSA, the president has been able to conduct covert actions—often without congressional knowledge—although sometimes facing scrutiny, such as in the case of Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra controversy in the mid-1980s.  In a post–Cold War world of increasing foreign threats from such countries as Iran and North Korea, it has been necessary for the American diplomatic core to re-evaluate its mission, to train agents in Arabic instead of Russian, and to develop a more flexible response that balances humanitarian, economic, and geopolitical concerns.  The presence of the U.S. military in continued conflicts overseas and the public revelations of abuses in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have brought about renewed scrutiny on members of the military and rekindled a long-standing debate about military ethics in wartime.
    It has also brought about heated debates concerning the role of the press to report on the actions of governments during wartime without endangering the lives of American soldiers.  The need for national security in the wake of 9/11 has inspired actions that range from annoying airport searches to potentially constitutionally questionable aspects of the Patriot Act, which was designed to allow easier information sharing between government agencies in order to prevent future terrorist attacks but a part of which also allowed the government to view library records without a court order in some cases.  Still, the realities of terrorism from foreign and domestic sources has been reaffirmed in attacks since 2001 around the world as well as attempted attacks on the United States in the years since 9/11.  It seems clear that continued vigilance on the part of the government and the military is necessary in order to protect the American people, although some actions of these institutions have been challenged in recent years by public revelations of governments secrets by groups such as Wikileaks, who claim to be reporting on information that the mainstream press is often ignoring because of their close relationship with politicians.  In turn, the government claims that such groups threaten national security and the lives of American citizens and soldiers; thus, this debate is likely to continue.
    Another debate that has grown since 9/11 and seems likely to continue involves the role of the government in protecting its citizens from such natural disasters as earthquakes and hurricanes as well as in disposing of nuclear waste in a safe manner.  Critiques of the former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) being folded into the new Department of Homeland Security became especially heated in the wake of the government’s failures to coordinate relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  The U.S. government has also faced criticism for failing to create a comprehensive plan for permanently disposing of nuclear waste and for allowing plants to run longer than originally designed, as public concerns in the wake of Three Mile Island have prevented the construction of new plants since the 1970s.  These related concerns have multiplied in the wake of the Japanese nuclear crisis, which grew out of a natural disaster and have forced a re-evaluation of the U.S. government’s disaster preparations.

    Unit 5 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 5 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 5.1 Foreign Policy: America in a Global Society  
  • 5.1.1 Constitutional War Powers  
  • 5.1.2 Foreign Threats to America  
  • 5.1.3 Military Ethics in Wartime  
  • 5.2 Homeland Security: The American Response to Terrorism  
  • 5.2.1 National Security and Government Secrecy  
  • 5.2.2 Civil Liberties and Homeland Security  
  • 5.2.3 The Press and the Public’s Right to Know  
  • 5.3 Emergency Preparedness: Natural Disaster Relief and Nuclear Power in America  
  • 5.3.1 Earthquakes and Emergency Preparedness  
  • 5.3.2 Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste Disposal  
  • Unit 6: Public Health Policy  

    The debate over the U.S. government’s role in providing health care for its citizens has become increasingly heated in recent years, with some arguing that the country is behind other industrialized nations in not providing universal medical care to all its citizens, while others argue that federal attempts to mandate health care for all Americans are reminiscent of socialism.  The U.S. government has long been responsible for providing medical care directly through Veterans Administration hospitals and with paying for the costs associated with health care for the elderly and the poor through Medicare and Medicaid—entitlement programs that are largely viewed as politically untouchable.  Still, the rising costs of providing medical care have spurred increasing efforts at reform despite the political consequences as well as increased interests in studying ways to reduce costs through a variety of preventative steps meant to decrease the usage of emergency rooms in favor of clinics.  Another aspect of these debates centers on the confidential relationship between patients and their doctors, who are trusted to make medical decisions but who are sometimes proscribed by government regulations.
    One area in which the American government has sometimes run into conflict with the medical establishment is in the area of drug policy, which doctors have long campaigned to be seen as a primarily a medical problem rather than a criminal issue.  The success of the American war on drugs, begun in the 1970s but costing ever more every year without seeming to reduce the number of addicts across the country, has been increasingly debated by policymakers in recent years, as many have begun to question the costs of existing drug policies against the seeming success of more liberal drug policies practiced by various European countries.  In the United States, the debate over the decriminalization of drugs has largely focused on marijuana, which has become legal in certain states as a treatment for medical problems if prescribed by a doctor.  Some organizations campaign for outright legalization, while others argue that the law as it currently stands makes it too easy for criminals to take unfair advantage for their own ends.
    Those who argue in favor of legalizing marijuana often point to the fact that alcohol and cigarettes remain legal despite the health risks involved with their usage.  Indeed, alcohol and cigarette smoking are considered to be the two major preventable causes of illness and death in America today; thus, many argue that those who engage in those types of risky behaviors should have to pay more for their medical care and ought to be restricted in the products they can buy.  This has also led to an increasing focus on why some groups of Americans irrespective of their personal habits seem to live longer than others and to debates over the best way to provide hospice care and other services to those who are dying.  Issues surrounding the end of life, such as whether a patient should have the right to die and what measures should be take to prolong a person’s life, have also brought about a new round of debate on the relationships among medicine, ethics, and law.

    Unit 6 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 6 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 6.1 Health Care: Debating Costs and Responsibilities  
  • 6.1.1 Introducing Health Care Policy in America  
  • 6.1.2 Public Usage of Emergency Rooms in California  
  • 6.1.3 The Relationship between Doctors and Patients  
  • 6.2 Drug Policy: Illegal Substances in America and the Medical Marijuana Debate  
  • 6.2.1 The American Drug War  
  • 6.2.2 Debating Marijuana Policy  
    • Web Media: The Centennial Institute’s “Marijuana Public Policy Debate”

      Link: The Centennial Institute’s "Marijuana Public Policy Debate”  (Adobe Flash)

      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and watch the above video in its entirety (90 minutes)—a panel discussion with law enforcement, policymakers, and scholars on the issues and options surrounding the use of medical marijuana.

      This web media should take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete.

      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 6.3 Major Issues in Contemporary Public Health Policy: Smoking, Obesity, and Aging  
  • 6.3.1 Smoking and Obesity in America  
    • Lecture: MIT: Fundamentals of Public Policy: “Health Policy”

      Link: MIT: Fundamentals of Public Policy: “Health Policy” (PDF)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, locate the above PDF on the linked page, and read this entire presentation (20 pages) on the health problems of smoking and obesity in the United States.
      This lecture should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.  

  • 6.3.2 Aging and Death in America  
  • 6.4 Entitlement Spending: Social Security and Medicare  


  • Unit 7: Environmental Policy  

    Environmental policy has been politicized in recent decades, with Democrats tending to be labeled as the “greener” of the two major parties in the United States, but it was under Republican president Theodore Roosevelt that the United States developed a national park system and under another Republican, Richard Nixon, that the Environmental Protection Agency was created.  Moreover, concern over the fate of the environment is not new but stems back to the late 19th century, when people first began to notice massive changes in the ecosystem created by the disappearance of the buffalo and its replacement by cattle. These changes, along with the spread of farming settlements into arid regions of the western Great Plains during this period, would help make possible the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  It was also in the 19th century that the Industrial Revolution first raised concerns over pollution affecting the air, land, and water around factories and urban centers.  Concerns over pollution have also impacted policies surrounding the limited supply of fresh water that is necessary to run commercial farms in otherwise drought-ridden areas and to allow suburban style development in such places as Las Vegas and Phoenix.  The inherent conflict between industrial progress and environmental preservation is also raised by the phenomena of externalities, wherein businesses will often pollute without restraint unless they are forced through government regulations to pay the true costs of production, which is more easily said than done.
    Many environmental policies impact not just the United States but the entire world, including those designed to protect endangered species from the impact of human settlement and pollution.  At the same time, the United States often finds itself in a difficult position in relationship to the international community with regards to environmental policy because of our reluctance to sign certain international accords, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and because of accusations of hypocrisy, especially by such rapidly developing nations as Brazil, India, and China.  The argument of these countries is that the United States was allowed to develop industry without regards to its impact on the global environment, and America continues to draw far more than its fair share of the world’s limited supply of natural resources; thus, it should not be forced to slow its own development now.  This argument is problematic from the broader perspective of global sustainability because if these and other industrializing nations, which together constitute half the world’s population, continue to develop along much the same lines as the United States and Europe, then it may become impossible to sustain modern lifestyles for all the world’s people. 
    One specific area of concern for the future of the entire human race is global warming, which refers to the overall increase in Earth’s average temperature and a related rise in sea levels caused by the melting of polar ice.  This issue was most famously raised by former vice president Al Gore in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, in which he argued that a series of small steps is absolutely necessary in order to prevent the continued rise in temperatures that cause a range of problems from drought to flooding and which he argued was the result of human activity.  Many believe that it is necessary to enact a series of public policy measures in order to slow the process of global warming and to adapt to warmer conditions, but others argue that this climate change is a natural process.  Those policymakers and interest groups who view global warming as a natural recurrent phenomenon point to historical weather data to support their arguments, although they are generally opposed by most meteorologists.  The debate over climate change will no doubt continue and provides an excellent example of the often complex relationships among scientific research, politicians, and public policy that prevail in America.

    Unit 7 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 7 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 7.1 Pollution: Policies Affecting Our Land, Air, and Water  
  • 7.1.1 Pollution  
  • 7.1.2 Water Usage  
  • 7.1.3 Environmental Costs  
    • Lecture: Inside the Global Economy: Episode 12: “Environment”

      Link: Inside the Global Economy: Episode 12: “Environment” (Adobe Flash)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and select the VoD icon next to “Environment” to watch this entire video (approximately 56 minutes) on the environmental costs to normal business practices.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • 7.2 Endangered Species and Global Sustainability: A World for Everyone and Everything  
  • 7.2.1 Protecting Endangered Species  
  • 7.2.2 Protecting the Global Environment  
  • 7.3 Global Warming: Debating the Reality of Climate Change  
  • 7.3.1 Introduction to Global Warming  
  • 7.3.2 Public Policies Concerning Global Warming  
  • 7.3.3 The Science of Climate Change  
    • Lecture: Planet Earth: Episode 3: “The Climate Puzzle”

      Link: Planet Earth: Episode 3: “The Climate Puzzle” (Adobe Flash)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and select the VoD icon next to “The Climate Puzzle” to watch this entire video (approximately 58 minutes) on various debates about climate change.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Unit 8: Education Policy  

    One of the most frequently debated areas of American public policy in recent decades has been education policy, which has traditionally been made on the local and state levels, but in the wake of studies showing that U.S. students lag behind their international peers, there have been increasing calls for a national education policy.  There is a vast field of literature devoted to studying how best to educate American students, and a wide range of policy initiatives are regularly tested out in schools across the country.  One major issue seems to be whether students in the United States are learning the material they are assigned at each grade level or are instead promoted for social reasons despite having failed to grasp the knowledge needed to truly move forward.  Another set of issues relate to the relationships between communities and schools, the relative responsibilities of parents and teachers in making sure that students are properly educated, and whether public schools can serve all students or if magnet, charter, and private schools should be publicly supported options for parents and students to choose among.
    Many who advocate for alternative schools point to a perceived lack of accountability in public schools, where teacher tenure and institutionalized practices make change difficult to institute.  Various critiques of the tenure system, which makes it difficult for teachers with several years of experience to be fired for performance issues, continue to be hotly debated across the country.  Meanwhile, a desire to hold teachers and schools more directly responsible led to the passage of No Child Left Behind, which set up a system of high-stakes testing in which all American students are required to pass a series of multiple-choice exams to show that they have acquired the necessary content knowledge to move up to the next level and eventually proceed to college.  This has set up a flurry of debates between policymakers, which seems likely to continue in the coming years, over such issues as whether state tests are really equivalent to a national exam and whether teachers are required by the law as it is currently written to “teach to the test” to the detriment of focusing on the critical thinking skills that students truly need to succeed in college. 
    Higher education policy has become an issue in recent years as the federal government has begun to play an increasing role to help students pay for college with students loans.  This has led to an interest in keeping down college costs, which have historically tended to rise far faster than the rate of inflation, and a renewed debate over whether a college education is worth the investment, especially when many professionally careers are more than ever becoming available only to those who possess postgraduate degrees.  The desire to keep down costs has led to an explosion in community college enrollment throughout the country as well as an even greater number of partnerships between county colleges, which traditionally tend to offer two-year and vocational degrees, and universities, allowing students to obtain degrees closer to home.  These schools have also attempted to increase enrollment through online education programs, which provide an alternative to the private online colleges that offer degrees of questionable reliability.  Indeed, it seems that community colleges are increasingly coming to occupy even more niches within the educational system for traditional and nontraditional students, which will no doubt lead to an even greater focus on the public policy decisions affecting these institutions.

    Unit 8 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 8 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 8.1 Public Education: Promoting Community Involvement in Urban Schools  
  • 8.1.1 Debating Social Promotion  
  • 8.1.2 Stories of Public Engagement  
  • 8.2 No Child Left Behind: The Debate over School Testing  
  • 8.2.1 State Education Standards  
  • 8.2.2 National Education Standards  
  • 8.3 Case Studies in American Higher Education Policy  
  • 8.3.1 Teaching Teachers in Texas Today  
  • 8.3.2 Contemporary California Community Colleges  
  • Unit 9: Public Policy in Rural Areas of America  

    Delivering public services to rural areas of this country offers a unique set of challenges, largely because the sparse population raises the cost associated with serving each individual resident.  Basic services ranging from school busing to postal carrying simply cost the government more to supply in rural areas than they do in more densely populated parts of the country, but these citizens deserve the same access to public resources as their more urbanized neighbors.  This is even more true in certain policy areas, such as education, where local communities generally pay the majority of the costs because rural communities tend to be among the poorest in the country, with Native American reservations in South Dakota, Appalachian counties in West Virginia, and former plantations of areas of Alabama regularly competing for the title of the most impoverished area of the United States.  This lack of economic resources makes it especially difficult for rural communities to pay for such special services as in-class aides for special needs student, nutrition programs, and prenatal care, which limit the possibilities of rural residents.
    One reason why rural areas have lagged behind much of the rest of the country economically is because of the historical lack of industrial development in these places, with clothing mills and paper producers in North Carolina the most common types of factories found outside urban America.  However, in the last several decades, a variety of corporations, especially automobile companies, have relocated factories to rural areas in search of big local tax breaks and cheaper nonunionized labor, while high-tech industries in places such as Texas have resulted in former farmland being turned into computer company campuses.  While agriculture continues to constitute the economic backbone of rural America, family farms that had been passed down from one generation to another have increasingly been replaced by huge corporate enterprises, resulting in an even smaller segment of America’s workforce being actively employed as farmers.
    With employment opportunities in rural areas limited, many residents have sought to migrate to other parts of the country, providing an ever increasing brain drain in places that can least afford to lose their most capable young workers.  This has led to an increased focus on the part of policymakers on encouraging economic development in rural areas, which would permit the people who call those places home to pursue more diverse educational and career opportunities than are currently available.  The incredible rate of technological change that has taken place over the last several decades has made it possible for rural areas to have access to enormous online libraries and companies to relocate to the countryside while remaining in communication with the rest of the world through wireless high-speed Internet and cell phone networks.  Only time will tell how rural communities will make use of these new technologies to change and grow, but it seems certain that government will play a role in this process through public policy.

    Unit 9 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 9 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 9.1 Costs: Paying for Basic Services and Special Needs Programs in Rural America  
  • 9.1.1 Paying for Basic Services  
  • 9.1.2 Paying for Special Services  
  • 9.2 Growth and Development: Economic Issues in Contemporary Rural America  
  • 9.2.1 Agriculture and Industry in Rural America  
  • 9.2.2 Ranching and Forestry in Rural America  
  • 9.3 Crises and Opportunities: Policy Approaches to the Future of Rural America  
  • Unit 10: Social Policy  

    There many other areas of American public policy that prompt debate among policymakers, including those dealing with topics in the larger field of social policy, such as immigration, civil rights, and crime.  The debate about immigration is often particularly heated during periods of economic recession; however, since the 18th century, politicians and citizens have been concerned with the impact of immigration on the national character of America.  Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1883, the U.S. government began to restrict immigration from certain areas of the world, imposing quotas based on national origins in the 1920s and setting up the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1940s to register aliens living in America.  Since the 1960s, legal immigration has increased from Latin America, Asia, and Africa thanks in part to changes in federal policy, but illegal immigration has become an increasingly visible problem, especially in certain areas of the Southwest that make use of migrant laborers.  Public debate over immigration reform has also brought up the issues of American companies and citizens profiting off illegal immigrant labor and whether a border fence might be the answer. 
    Concerns over immigration have also raised issues of civil rights and civil liberties, as some argue that racial profiling in order to find illegal aliens is ineffective and against the spirit of equality that has become instituted in American law over the course of the last century.  In the years after the Civil War, there were initial attempts to bring about racial equality throughout the country; however, the last quarter of the 19th century saw the development of legalized Jim Crow segregation in northern and southern states.  During the first half of the 20th century, as the nation debated the existence of civil liberties during wartime, with socialists and others outside the political mainstream slowly becoming allowed to express their views without facing jail time, civil rights lagged behind with legal segregation being oft reconfirmed until the 1950s.  While the civil rights movements of the 1960s brought about increased opportunities for minorities and women, attempts to level the playing field through affirmative action policies beginning in the 1970s have raised concerns over reverse discrimination and thus remain hotly debated today.
    Concerns over racial equality have also impacted debates surrounding the criminal justice system in contemporary America, as accusations of unfair sentencing practices and police brutality against minority groups has forced a re-evaluation of many once commonly accepted aspects of public policy as it relates to law enforcement.  The United States imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other advanced industrial nation, and the prison-industrial complex provides jobs for countless Americans but at a cost of millions of dollars a year to taxpayers.  Significant questions over the costs of these jails have inspired many to question the benefit to society of jailing nonviolent drug offenders, while others argue that prison life should be even harsher to discourage repeat recidivism.  Some reformers have even proposed spending more money in order to better educate and rehabilitate criminals in preparation for their re-entry into society, where former inmates often struggle to find regular employment once released.  The harsh realities faced by convicted felons during and after their time in prison also serves as a reminder of the important role that defense attorneys play in advocating for their clients, although the American justice system values the rights of victims as much as those of the accused.  Finding the balance among competing interests in courtrooms is just one more way in which public policy seeks to best serve the greatest number of citizens in the fairest way possible for all.

    Unit 10 Time Advisory   show close
    Unit 10 Learning Outcomes   show close
  • 10.1 Immigration Reform: Public Policy and the Future of the American Citizenry  
  • 10.1.1 Patterns of Immigrant Settlement  
  • 10.1.2 Debating Immigration Reform  
  • 10.1.3 Public Policy and Migrant Labor  
  • 10.2 Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: Debating Affirmative Action and Other Policies  
  • 10.2.1 Introducing Civil Rights and Civil Liberties  
  • 10.2.2 The Process of Integrating American Society  
  • 10.2.3 The Ongoing Debate over Affirmative Action  
  • 10.3 Criminal Justice: Weighing Costs and Benefits in American Public Policy  
  • 10.3.1 Introducing the Modern American Justice System  
  • 10.3.2 The Costs and Benefits of Incarcerating Criminals  
  • 10.3.3 Debating the Ethics of the Modern Legal System  
    • Lecture: Ethics in America: Episode 2: “To Defend a Killer”

      Link: Ethics in America: Episode 2: “To Defend a Killer” (Adobe Flash)
      Instructions: Please click on the link above, and select the VoD icon next to “To Defend a Killer” to watch this entire video (approximately 58 minutes), in which panel participants discuss the ethics of the American justice system.
      Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Final Exam