In recent years, scholars have returned to the front lines of policy implementation. Building upon the seminal insights of Lipsky (1980) concerning the importance of street-level bureaucrats in shaping the reality of policy, the new research considers the role of their decisions, motivations, and capabilities in affecting policy outcomes. Noticeably missing from this scholarship is attention to the regulatory arena and the important role of inspectors at the front lines of regulatory activity. Within broad parameters established by agency guidelines and routines, inspectors typically have a good deal of autonomy and discretion in how they go about enforcing regulations. They have discretion over the thoroughness with which they conduct inspections and over the manner in which they interact with regulatees. In other words, inspectors are classic examples of the street-level bureaucrat.
The crosscutting theme of the newer scholarship addressing street-level behaviors, and of the research reported here, is attention to different modes of public action at the front lines of service delivery. Street-level bureaucrats often make choices on the spot about the best mode of action to produce a desired set of behaviors from a target individual or group. Like most street-level bureaucrats, inspectors can be alternately informative, cajoling, educating, or punitive as needed to produce the desired levels of cooperation and compliance. Much of the recent scholarship in this area has focused on how organizational routines and the attitudes and values of bureaucrats shape governmental actions (see Brehm and Gates 1997; Golden 2000; Vinzant and Crothers 1998). In contrast, our research focuses on the interaction between inspectors as street-level bureaucrats for regulatory policy and regulatees. We address the extent to which and ways by which the enforcement styles of inspectors influence compliance with regulations.
Within the regulatory enforcement literature, the behaviors of inspectors have received less attention than regulatory enforcement agencies, and the findings about enforcement agencies are more settled than those about inspectors (Gunningham and Grabosky 1998; Kagan 1994; Sparrow 2000). In particular, regulatory scholars differ in their characterizations of enforcement style. They commonly draw a distinction between inspectors as "cops" and inspectors as "consultants," recognizing that those roles may differ depending on regulatory circumstances (Braithwaite 1985; Kagan and Scholz 1984; Kagan 1994). This distinction has been criticized because of findings that enforcement styles differ with respect to more than the rigidity of enforcement (Gormley 1998; May and Winter 2000; Shover et al. 1984). Regulatory scholars also differ in policy prescription regarding desired styles of enforcement. The consensus of the literature is that rigid enforcement is problematic, whereas flexible interpretation of rules, involving what Ayres and Braithwaite (1992) label "responsive regulation," is more promising (also see Gunningham and Grabosky 1998; Sparrow 2000). However, that consensus is based on stereotyped versions of what constitutes formality in enforcement. We address these unsettled issues by developing a characterization of enforcement style and by analyzing the effects of different enforcement styles on compliance.
The setting for this research is the regulation of the safety of buildings, with particular attention to requirements for construction of new homes. We examine the influence of building inspectors' differing enforcement styles and other factors in bringing about homebuilders' compliance with building code provisions. Because only some results of the inspection process are visible to supervisors, building departments and the inspection function have characteristics of what Wilson (1989, 168-71) labels "coping agencies." For such organizations, the effectiveness of …