The Role of Information Networks in the Federal System: School Nutrition and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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Actors, both inside and outside of government, play prominent roles in policy implementation of federal system. Utilizing information networks and structural mechanisms, these actors influence, shape, and implement federal policies. The purpose of this dissertation is to further understand how local, state, and national networks affect the implementation of federal policies at the state and local levels. To address this question, this paper explores the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 from conception in the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity (chaired by First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Michelle Obama), subsequent passage in Congress, codification by the lead agency (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and implementation by the states through local school districts. School nutrition has gained public recognition from a 2014 social media campaign, and more recently due to calls to repeal the act as an Obama legacy program. This issue has a greater implication as the entire school nutrition program is currently funded through supplemental legislation (since 2015) and is due for reauthorization in 2020. The 2010 reauthorization of the School Nutrition Act was the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), and elements are included in the current and contentious Farm Bill. The importance of this inquiry lies not only in the study of power relationships that exist in networks but also has substantive relevance in the exploration of school nutrition in the United States. The very notion of whether or not public schools have the responsibility to feed children is still debated not only for the cost, but the merits of such a program. The latest controversy, besides the desirability of the food served and its nutritional value, surrounds the political ownership of programs reflecting the primacy of the federal government versus devolution to the states. While the significance of networks is established (Agranoff 2007; Agranoff and McGuire 2003, Berry et al. 2004; Hale 2011; Kickert, Klijn, and Koppenjan 1999; Lipnack and Stamps 1993; Milward, Provan and Else 1993; O’Toole 1997; Provan and Milward 1995, 2001), the study of these complex relationships is recent and underdeveloped (Adam and Kriesi 2007; Agranoff, 2007; Hale 2011). In this project I gather original information from the fifty states and District of Columbia directors of nutrition and through in-depth analysis of case studies in three states. This analysis utilizes these case studies and uses mixed methods to analyze original data obtained in three levels: local and state levels in the form of surveys, and semi-structured interviews for the federal level. The survey, nearly identical for both the state and local levels, focuses on three areas of emphasis: identification, relationship, and values. The surveys were sent to all 50 state directors and the District of Columbia, and all local directors in the selected states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Interviews focusing on the federal level, but also including state and local directors, provide further insight and create a rich narrative of the federal policy implementation process as well as informational networks that exist and influence policy implementation. The implications of this dissertation lie in furthering the knowledge of informational networks and their influence on the policy process and implementation and furthers the awareness of the current state of federalism in the United States today.