In terms of government, policy refers to the laws, regulations, courses of action and funding priorities related to a given issue. At the federal government level, public policy regulates commerce, industry and transportation; provides for the safety of citizens at home and abroad; supports state and local governments; and contributes to the formation of social initiatives. The development and implementation of a public policy typically goes through a number of phases that are referred to as the policy cycle. Although the process is often complex and unpredictable and does not always proceed in a linear fashion, the policy cycle model provides a rough frame of reference for understanding the process. These are the sequential phases of the public policy life cycle.
- Agenda setting. Policy development begins with identification and definition of a problem. Issues and possible solutions are researched and analyzed in this early stage. Once a problem is defined, efforts are made to raise awareness of the problem among lawmakers and the public. Strategies for raising awareness include public education, use of media channels, forming advocacy groups, convening stakeholders and building coalitions.
- Formulation and adoption. Policy formulation involves discussion among lawmakers about possible solutions followed by adoption of a new policy or amendment of an existing policy. In some cases, a policy is presented to voters as a ballot measure and their vote will determine adoption of the policy.
- Implementation. A new policy is usually carried out by government agencies that are responsible for the problem area; the decision-makers who formulate a policy are not the implementers. For example, when the Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the justices did not provide a plan for carrying out desegregation but instead left the details of implementation to local jurisdictions.
- Evaluation. Once a policy has been implemented, its effectiveness must be evaluated. Research and analysis are again brought to bear to determine if the original problem has been addressed and if there have been any unexpected outcomes. Cost-benefit analysis is often used to determine if the benefits of a policy are worth the expenditure. If the policy demonstrates significant failures, a new cycle may begin with problem definition and agenda setting. It is possible for the cycle to repeat multiple times until a successful policy is implemented.
In rare cases, a policy may be terminated or repealed based on evaluation of its effectiveness. Historically, once policies are implemented they can be very difficult to terminate. This usually occurs only if the policy is clearly wrong, has lost public support or has become obsolete. Prohibition in the United States is an example of a terminated policy. In 1919, the U.S. Constitution was amended to prohibit the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. Most large cities did not enforce the legislation, leaving the main responsibility for enforcement to understaffed federal agencies. There was a significant rise in organized crime related to the production and distribution of bootleg alcohol. Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression and in 1933 was repealed by another constitutional amendment. The policy formulation phase of the policy cycle described above may involve the president and the Cabinet, Congress, and the courts (representing the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government). In Western-style democracies, competing interest groups are free to influence these decision-makers. Groups and individuals frequently attempt to shape U.S. public policy through advocacy, education and special interest groups. The amount of time required for completion of the policy cycle is variable—each phase may take weeks, months or years.
Read More About Policy Formation
- The Criminal Justice System
- Energy Policy
- Environmental Protection and the EPA
- The Federal Budget
- Healthcare Policy
- NASA and Space Exploration
Policy Formulation Careers
Public policy regulates the actions of every branch of government. Elected members of Congress are the most visible policymakers in the nation, but there are also policy-related jobs in government agencies responsible for commerce, transportation, healthcare, taxation and spending, energy, the environment, criminal justice, and national security. MPA careers in policy formulation take full advantage of the communication and interpersonal skills as well as the policy process knowledge that are provided by the degree.
Job Title: Director for Central Asia
Estimated Salary: $123,758 to $155,500 per year
The director for Central Asia works in the Executive Office of the President and provides support to the president as a U.S. trade representative. The director leads a group that is responsible for managing the Trade Policy Forum for the United States and India. Position duties include coordinating agriculture, investment, services, intellectual property rights, and both tariff and non-tariff barriers. The director also leads Trade and Investment Council meetings with countries that are currently under a U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Central Asian states, and works to establish TIFAs with Bangladesh, Nepal, Iraq and Maldives. The director must also explain and defend the Administration's trade policies to Congress, the nation, the press and foreign governments.
Job Title: Assistant Director, Policy
Estimated Salary: $123,758 to $155,500 per year
The position of assistant director for policy in the Department of the Treasury is responsible for working with senior Treasury officials and directing inter-office teams in the formulation and implementation of policies related to economic sanctions and trade embargoes. The assistant director must manage and direct all operations of the Policy Division concerning U.S. sanctions programs as well as serve as a recognized expert on foreign policy and national security with respect to economic sanctions. The position also requires that analytical criteria be developed and used to assess the effectiveness of sanctions programs and that recommendations are made for improving sanctions.
Job Title: Assistant General Counsel for Policy
Estimated Salary: $119,554 to $165,300 per year
The assistant general counsel of policy is a senior member of the Office of General Council within the Federal Election Commission. The assistant general counsel oversees two teams of attorneys, paralegals, investigators and administrative staff. The teams are responsible for the drafting of advisory opinions, regulations and legal memoranda that interpret election policy as described in the Federal Elections Campaign Act. This position, which requires a law degree, is a good fit for candidates who have earned dual MPA and JD degrees.