Opportunistic federalism: The Wichita’s case

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Wichita, Kansas, is confronting contamination in the Gilbert-Mosley site, leading to increased contamination of other water sources in the area with bacteria and chemicals. This is causing the city to look closely at how it manages the environment. Cleaning up the area and preventing more contamination are priorities for the city of Wichita (Rosegrant). Chris Cherches, the city manager, has established a cooperation with the “Kansas Department of Health and Environment” to test the water and create a cleanup strategy. The city is also working with the EPA.

The federal government is not playing a major role in the cleanup effort but is providing funding for the city-led cleaning activity (Rosegrant). This situation exemplifies opportunistic federalism (OF), in which the federal government contributes to state and local initiatives but assumes no direct accountability for the problem. In situations like this, OF can be advantageous since it enables state and local governments to take the initiative in resolving the issue in a community. They are better positioned to know the community’s needs and implement solutions that will be most effective. In this case, the federal government is providing some funding and resources, but the local government and the people in the city are doing the majority of the work.

However, it can also be a flaw because it might result in a patchwork of ineffective solutions. Fortunately, the city manager of Wichita, Cherches, created a viable strategy for the city-led cleanup (Rosegrant). It has been noted that state and local governments operate independently, which results in wasted effort or inefficient solutions. The Wichita case is a clear example of how local governments can be limited in responding to and recovering from disasters. The city was overwhelmed by the disaster and could not effectively respond on its own. Additionally, the city did not have the financial resources to effectively recover from the disaster and coordinate its recovery efforts without assistance from the federal government. This illustrates how the local government is dependent on the federal government. 


Rosegrant, S. Wichita Confronts Contamination.