Presidents and the Politics of Agency Design: Political Insulation in the United States Government Bureaucracy, 1946-1997

Presidents and the Politics of Agency Design: Political Insulation in the United States Government Bureaucracy, 1946-1997

Presidents and the Politics of Agency Design: Political Insulation in the United States Government Bureaucracy, 1946-1997

Presidents and the Politics of Agency Design: Political Insulation in the United States Government Bureaucracy, 1946-1997

Synopsis

The administrative state is the nexus of American policy making in the postwar period. The vague and sometimes conflicting policy mandates of Congress, the president, and courts are translated into real public policy in the bureaucracy. As the role of the national government has expanded, the national legislature and executive have increasingly delegated authority to administrative agencies to make fundamental policy decisions. How this administrative state is designed, its coherence, its responsiveness, and its efficacy determine, in Robert Dahl's phrase, "who gets what, when, and how." This study of agency design, thus, has implications for the study of politics in many areas. The structure of bureaucracies can determine the degree to which political actors can change the direction of agency policy. Politicians frequently attempt to lock their policy preferences into place through insulating structures that are mandated by statute or executive decree. This insulation of public bureaucracies, such as the Social Security Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Internal Revenue Service, is essential to understanding both administrative policy outputs and executive-legislative politics in the United States. This book explains why, when, and how political actors create administrative agencies in such a way as to insulate them from political control, particularly presidential control.

Excerpt

In reality, bureaus are among the most important institutions in every part of the world. Not only do they provide employment for a very significant fraction of the world's population; but they also make critical decisions that shape the economic, educational, political, social, moral, and even religious lives of nearly everyone on earth. … Yet the role of bureaus in both economic and political theory is hardly commensurate with their true importance.

—Anthony Downs, Inside Bureaucracy

Not many people find the study of American bureaucracy a provocative or compelling subject. Discussion of American politics generally revolves around the actions of Congress, the president, and, to a lesser extent, the courts. This oversight is unfortunate. The administrative state is the nexus of policy making in the postwar period. The vague and sometimes conflicting policy mandates of Congress, the president, and courts get translated into real public policy in the bureaucracy. The fourteen cabinet departments and fifty-seven independent agencies or government corporations make important policy decisions affecting millions. As the role of the national government has expanded, the national legislature and executive have increasingly delegated authority to administrative agencies to make fundamental policy decisions. These agencies make important decisions, such as whether RU486 should be available to American women, whether race-based educational and employment practices are permissible, and what levels of sulfur dioxide are permissible from smokestacks. Their decisions are published in the seventy thousand to eighty thousand pages of the Federal Register, and they represent to many citizens the exercise of public authority. For many people . . .

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