Domestic Policy

The term domestic policy refers to the decisions made by a government regarding issues and activities that occur within the country. This term encompasses all of the laws, planning, and actions of the government which concern internal issues that affect the entire country. Many domestic policies are devised by the federal government, though many are developed through the combined efforts of federal, state, and local governments. To explore this concept, consider the following domestic policy definition.

Definition of Domestic Policy


  1. Public plans and courses of action that encompass internal issues of national importance.

What is Domestic Policy

The term domestic policy is broadly used to describe a range of issues, including personal rights and freedoms, social welfare, healthcare, education, legislation, law enforcement, natural resources, and energy generation and use. Domestic policy affects how every person in the country lives every day, as it shapes such issues as environmental protection, laws, education, welfare programs, and law enforcement. This is in contrast to foreign policy, which deals with the nation’s relationships with other countries, including international trade, and peacekeeping. The two types of policy can be referred to together as public policy.

Types of Domestic Policy

Domestic policies are created in the effort to minimize chaos in the country. This is done on a number of fronts, where there are policies that govern the government, policies that keep law enforcement on the right track, and policies that guide and care for the people. Domestic policy in the United States can be divided into several types, each of which focuses on a different aspect of life in the U.S.

  • Regulatory Policy – Regulatory Policy seeks to maintain order, outlawing behaviors that pose a danger to society. This is accomplished through policies and laws that restrict people, groups, and companies from doing things that have a detrimental effect on social and political order. Regulatory policy includes such issues as administering voting procedures, enacting traffic ordinances, and creating policies to prevent people from using dangerous drugs. Regulatory policy also controls business markets and regulates industry, protects the environment, and sets policy for the workplace.
  • Distributive Policy – Distributive policy is concerned with providing goods and services, administered through public agencies, to various organizations. These goods and services are paid for by the citizens’ taxes, and include such items as public education, public roadways, public safety, and welfare.
  • Redistributive Policy – Redistributive policy is a tricky issue, as it involves moving tax dollars from one organization, which received the money through distributive policy, to other organizations. On the face, such redistribution is supposed to be done in an attempt to eliminate adverse social issues, such as poverty. In practice, this is rarely so cut-and-dry. Because the nation’s leaders are able to use redistribution to gain advantages in other budget issues, or even to enhance one group’s power over another.
  • Constituent Policy – Constituent policies create agencies with executive power to work as an agent of the government. For instance, at some point, new departments or agencies were created to deal with taxes, and to administer the Social Security plan. Constituent policy is also concerned with laws, and with fiscal policy, and is responsible for development of new departments, distribution of funds internally, and creating rules for public servants.

Other Types of Domestic Policy

Although the above policy types comprise the primary categories, there are many types of policy that are created and used to keep the U.S. operating smoothly. Examples of domestic policy that fall within the purview of the above categories include:

  • Public Policy
  • Defense Policy
  • Economic Policy
  • Energy Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Public Health Policy
  • Transportation Policy

Domestic Social Policy Division

A division of the Congressional Research Service, the Domestic Social Policy Division (“DSP”) is responsible to analyze issues of domestic policies and social programs. After looking into the policies and programs it is tasked with, reports are provided to Congress, allowing legislators to make appropriate decisions in making future decisions, enacting laws, and overseeing existing agencies.

Policies and social programs examined by the DSP include:

  • Public Education
  • Labor Policy and Worker Safety
  • Healthcare Services
  • Health Research
  • Healthcare Insurance
  • Policies and Studies on Aging
  • Social Security, both pensions and disability insurance
  • Immigration
  • Homeland Security
  • Domestic Intelligence
  • Criminal Justice
  • Welfare, Nutrition, and Housing programs

Responsibility for researching such a broad spectrum of services and agencies in this example of domestic policy responsibility, is a daunting task. To bring order to the undertaking in this example of domestic policy organization, the DSP is broken down into six research subdivisions, each subdivision having its own research manager. Those subdivisions include:

Domestic Security and Immigration

The Domestic Security and Immigration subdivision researches issues of criminal justice, including:

  • Criminal Justice – including drug control, gun control, juvenile justice, crime trends, sentencing guidelines, and the FBI.
  • Domestic Intelligence – including activities of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”), the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms division (“ATF”), and certain components of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”).
  • Border Security – including Border Patrol, screening for terrorists, and disposition of unauthorized aliens.
  • Immigration – including issues of legal immigration, naturalization, and temporary workers.

Children and Families

The Children and Families subdivision researches issues concerning the health and welfare of children and families, including:

  • Child Welfare – including foster care, adoption, runaway and homeless youth, teen pregnancy.
  • Low-Income Families – including welfare, food stamps, Head Start education programs, and child support.
  • Housing – including public housing subsidies, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers Program, housing programs for special populations, home ownership initiatives, and homelessness.

Education and Labor

The Education and Labor subdivision researches issues concerning elementary and secondary education, including:

  • Federal Aid to School Districts – including aid allocation formulas (math formulas to determine how much financial aid each district will receive), accountability, and special education.
  • Postsecondary Education and Job Training – including financial aid for college costs, student aid, and vocational education.
  • Labor – including equal pay, minimum wage and overtime wage standards, and other labor standards.

Health Services and Research

The Health Services and Research subdivision researches issues concerning public health and research, including:

  • Medical Research and Healthcare Services – including research into diseases at the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), stem cell research, and maintaining of electronic medical records.
  • Public Health – including regulation of prescription drugs and medical devices at the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), health preparedness, and emergency response.
  • Health Issues for the Aging – including long-term care, and chronic disease management.
  • Veterans’ Healthcare – including accessibility, and other healthcare concerns.

Health Insurance and Financing

The Health Insurance and Financing subdivision researches issues related to the provision of health insurance to all Americans, as well as financing issues related to healthcare and health insurance, including:

  • Health Insurance – including Medicare, Medicaid, and state children’s health insurance.
  • Health Insurance Access – including healthcare coverage, and insurance reform.

Income Security

The Income Security subdivision researches issues related to the financial requirements of the elderly, disabled, and unemployed, including:

  • Social Security
  • Income for the Disabled
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Retirement Savings and Pensions

Domestic Policy Example in New Agency Creation

In 1970, as public opinion over environmental issues gained traction, Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), an environmental law that advocates enhancement and protection of the environment. NEPA established a new committee, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”), to administer the provisions of NEPA.

NEPA requires all federal agencies to provide an assessment of the environmental, economical, and social effects of their proposed actions before taking those actions. NEPA has authority to:

  • Make decisions on granting or denying permit applications
  • Adopting federal land management actions
  • Constructing highways, and other publicly-owned facilities

Domestic Policy Example in Medical Marijuana Argument

Perhaps one of the most controversial domestic policy issues for the federal government is its responsibility to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and use of harmful drugs. While there are a great number of drugs that are banned, and medications placed on restrictive lists, without too much public complaint, one drug has been a source of great controversy for many decades.

Scientific studies exist that document potential harmful effects of smoking cannabis, but there are also studies outlining the potential beneficial effects on those suffering from certain diseases. Sufferers of such painful conditions as:

  • Cancer
  • HIV
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Interstitial Cystitis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Peripheral Neuropathy

look with hope toward medical marijuana to help them escape their constant, daily pain. The federal government had already taken a rigid stance on marijuana, however, and is reluctant to change its domestic policy position. Even as most states are legalizing marijuana for medical use, and are striving to enact a system of prescribing and distributing the substance in a controlled manner, the federal government maintains authority through the Controlled Substances Act.

Most people are not aware that the United States is a member of several international drug control regimes, including:

  • 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
  • 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances
  • 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances

The U.S. government takes these commitments seriously and, though there is some flexibility in the regimes’ requirements, the U.S. has maintained strict adherence since the time of the first convention. For the first time since entering into these international efforts at drug control, individual states have flouted federal law, allowing their citizens to vote on legalization of marijuana. This domestic policy upheaval is an example of how changes in what society deems acceptable brings about change in a nation where people are allowed to speak their minds, and to add their voices to important decisions to be made.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Executive Power – Authority to enforce orders and to ensure they are carried out as intended.
  • Legislator – A person who makes laws.
  • Public Servant – A person holding a government office or job by election or appointment.

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