An Overview of US Federal structure – by Akram Elias.

Akram Elias, IVLP, International Visitor Leadership Program.

Mr. Akram Elias (President and CEO, Capital Communications, Inc.)

Akram is the President and CEO of Capital Communication, Inc.; has more than 25 years’ experience as a consultant in the areas of public diplomacy, cross-cultural training and communication. He is an extremely spirited speaker and he gave us an outline of the US federalism. I loved his presentation and asked him stupid questions, to which he very calmly tried to present a diplomatic answer.

In the United States of America,

The Government is a tool to solve problems of the civic society and not an entity to solve problems. The focus is on the civic society and how they plan to take the country forward. They partner with the government, build coalitions with other similar or relevant civic society bodies to solve an issue. The government does not. The people do via the civic societies.

There needs to be leadership over self; lead self as an example before leading others. He believes that leaders are not born. Leadership can be learnt, if the person wants to and if there is a conducive environment to enable that learning.

He believes leadership is not only transactional or transformational but also “quiet”, where the leader invests more time in consensus building among groups.

The United States of America has institutionalised lobbying. “Could you stop one person from inviting another for dinner? Could you restrict their exchange of thoughts?”, was the idea behind it. Building consensus, advocacy and lobbying form essential parts of the government and daily life of an American.

There’s a government at the top, that’s Federal Government (more like the Indian Union Government but with lesser powers); there’s one at the state level (similar to the Indian state government but with more powers); and there’s local level government (like the municipality, panchayats etc.).

Americans elect their House representatives, each serves a term of 2 years; and Senators, each serving a term of 6 years. This is essential to maintain continuity in discussions and policymaking. Each elected House is sovereign and independent of the other. The Federal Government takes care of the laws and budget of the Defence, Economy, Foreign affairs (not policy) and regulates trade and commerce between the states.

If there’s a change to be made, it has to be raised by the local civic bodies and moved to the local administrations, then to the states and if required, to the federal government. 50 states in the USA behave and operate like 50 different countries with their own laws and even Supreme Courts. That’s pretty much like the Indian system, but slightly more robust and decentralised.

While in the discussions, Akram told that the Congress (elected representatives) cannot create priorities, the President can. The Congress can, however, oppose the priorities made by the President. Example: President Trump might want to build Mexican wall as a priority. The Congress can oppose the priority. Trump then, has to go to the people, ask them to force the idea bottom up and persuade the Congress to make this a priority and act on it.

The President is the commander-in-chief; he allocates special forces in different countries if need be, in existing bases. The President can call for special operations like the one Obama did in Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden; the Congress can call for war. For the war, the military needs to ask for it mentioning clear and present danger, consensus should be built in the Senate and the House before the war is declared.

I was being the mischievous kid in the room. My questions ranged about electoral points to North Korea. I had a simple question – If President Trump instigates North Korean Kim Jong-un, Kim might bomb the USA to avoid the “fire and fury”. If it does, would the military be in a position to move to the President to show “clear and present danger”? OR would Trump use special operations to bomb North Korea? Akram laughed and pointed out, “Our President Trump is unpredictable. But strategically unpredictable!”

I loved Akram’s presentation and the overview of the US Federal structure. There’s always this space for debate between isolationism and engagement, between unilateralism and engaging different civic bodies and building coalitions.

I have a few friends who are really into US politics! I’m sure many of those who read this would have questions. Do ask, leave a comment.

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