George Bush and Executive Branch Domestic Policymaking Competence
Williams, Walter, Policy Studies Journal
This article critiques the George Bush domestic policymaking process and argues that Bush had the second-lowest level of policy competence among postwar presidents, ranking above only Ronald Reagan. Although not overtly antianalytic like Reagan, Bush gave little thought and effort to restoring the badly damaged executive branch domestic policymaking process. The article closes with suggestions about the steps needed for, and the difficulties in establishing, a strong White House policymaking process that generates fruitful interaction among key policy advocates over time and that establishes sufficient Executive Office of the President (EOP) capacity to monitor the implementation and management of presidential policies.
George Bush came to the White House at a critical point in the institutional presidency. The Ronald Reagan administration's undermining of the presidential policymaking process had severely decreased policy information, analytical capability, and managerial capability in the executive branch. By 1989, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the federal agencies lacked the competent staff, underlying structural processes, and computer capacity needed to produce reliable policy information and analysis for decisionmaking and managing efficiently legislative mandates in the domestic policy area. Much of the blame could be attributed to President Reagan himself, in that his ideological certainty and organizational incompetence had produced an antianalytic, antibureaucratic presidency.
In sharp contrast, Bush was seen as a nonideological, pragmatic problem-solver experienced with policy analysis and management techniques. He was compared favorably with President Dwight Eisenhower, who had emerged as the most able managerial president in memory. Presidential scholar Erwin Hargrove (1989, pp. 173--174, 176) wrote at the outset of the Bush presidency: "He has more administrative experience at the top of the national government than any president since Eisenhower.... Policy analysis will be valued in the White House economic, national security, and domestic policy staffs to a degree that was not the case in the Reagan administration." Given his varied organizational experience and his philosophy of governance, Bush seemed likely to stress tight management, including strong financial management controls. Such an orientation would have been consistent with an incremental presidency that had no big domestic policy objectives, much like Eisenhower, who too was a foreign policy president. Well-managing domestic policies that already are in place fit perfectly with President Bush's belief that prudence was the first duty of a president (Duffy & Goodgame, 1992, p. 70).(1)
That Bush's domestic policymaking process, for all the superficial differences, turned out to be so similar to that of his predecessor is as surprising as any aspect of his presidency.(2) Why did President Bush and his top domestic policy people not seek dramatic improvements in the executive branch policymaking process to enhance presidential decisionmaking and competent agency management? Did the weak policy process stem from Bush's own policy incompetence and that of his top staff, from EOP structural and staffing deficiencies, or from overwhelming systemic pressures on the presidency that make a sound presidential policymaking process most difficult, if not impossible, in the future? Joseph Pika (1988, p. 5) has argued that "the central analytic task [in understanding the modern presidency is] examining the effects of both the man ... and the office." In the case of Bush, we need to consider both the interaction of the policy expertise he brought to the presidency and the existing EOP structure the new president inherited from President Reagan. Of particular importance is understanding the organization and staffing of the Bush presidency and drawing some generalizations about what can be inferred regarding …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: George Bush and Executive Branch Domestic Policymaking Competence. Contributors: Williams, Walter - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 21. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 1993. Page number: 700+. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.