Executive Governance: Presidential Administrations and Policy Change in the Federal Bureaucracy

By Cornell G. Hooton | Go to book overview
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3
Legalism and Authority

1. Rules, Requirements, and Definitions

Spurs to Legalism

We begin with observations on legalistic and formalistic behaviors in policy change. Although the existence of formalistic behaviors has been observed before as part of "bureaucratic behavior," this chapter renews the emphasis by noting not just their pervasiveness but the functional role that they play in shaping and organizing action—an emphasis that constrains the calculations and maneuvers of top-level policy-makers even as it ultimately provides them with a resource (the latter perspective appearing in Chapter 6). Careerists in bureaus seem not just to have used formal precedents and procedures to guide day-to-day matters but also to have adhered to them even in knowing contradiction of political directions that seem on their face to make reasonable demands. The implication is that a variety of legal considerations may strongly bound efforts by political appointees to exert informal, "political" influence over policy change. But why does the attentiveness occur among careerists?

No single reason is clear from interview data. Formalistic and legal rigidity seemingly springs from any of a number of desires: for coordinating action within and across offices; for protecting the autonomy of decisions that are central to an office; for preserving professional standards against cross-cutting political pressures and an environment that is ready to protest, or to exploit, an appearance of impartiality or favoritism; for promoting a certain set of policy preferences; for maintaining stability or preventing changes in program focus; or for some combination of these possibilities. Indeed, differing motives are apparent in differing situations. Three motives are especially noticeable, however, in the selected policy areas of this study.


Policy Preferences

First, formalistic behaviors appear to have provided some careerists an opportunity to slow or block a new policy that they did not like. An example

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