Academic journal article Public Administration Review

"Execucrats," Politics, and Public Policy: What Are the Ingredients for Successful Performance in the Federal Government?

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

"Execucrats," Politics, and Public Policy: What Are the Ingredients for Successful Performance in the Federal Government?

Article excerpt

Ever since the emergence of the politics-administration dichotomy, public administrationists and political scientists have grappled with the question of whether career servants participate, or ought to participate, in high-level decision and policy making in government. Although it is, by now, widely established that "execucrats," that is career executives/bureaucrats, are indeed enmeshed in the public policy-making process, very little work has examined what it takes for them to be effective policy makers. (The term execucrat is introduced and used here instead of bureaucrat, which has become extremely pejorative and, hence, counterproductive.)

This article examines the ingredients of effective execucratic performance at the federal level of government. Through case studies, the accomplishments of six execucrats in different policy fields are analyzed to determine the significance of such factors as political and managerial skills for execucratic effectiveness. Based on this analysis, inferences are made about what it takes to be a successful execucrat.

Spelling Execucratic Success

This study closely parallels the insightful and seminal research efforts of Laurence Lynn (1984; 1987), who examined whether President Reagan was effective in using his power of appointment to promote his values and ideologies. In his study, Lynn looked at the accomplishments of five Reagan appointees and, specifically, their ability to change agency behavior. While the present study is interested in the effectiveness of execucrats in shaping and influencing public policy, the shared quest for ingredients of effective bureaucratic performance allows one to draw upon Lynn's framework of study.

If we begin by identifying an outcome or implemented policy that is perceived, at first glance, as being successful, we can then examine the factors that account for the success. Lynn has identified four factors that can influence effective executive performance. Drawing on these, seven factors that can potentially influence execucratic effectiveness are offered: (1) political skills; (2) management and leadership skills; (3) situational factors; (4) experience; (5) technical expertise; (6) strategy; and (7) personality.

Political skills are an essential ingredient to execucratic success. As myriad studies have shown (e.g., Rosenbloom, 1989; Nachmias and Rosenbloom, 1980; Heclo, 1977; Lipsky, 1980; Meier, 1993; Peters, 1989; Rourke, 1976), execucrats do not make policy in a vacuum. Their ability to maneuver in political environments, building support from relevant coalitions such as Congress, the president, political appointees, interest groups, government agencies, the public, and even the media could spell success or failure in their efforts.

In addition, an effective execucrat must have good management and leadership skills, which, as many have pointed out, include the ability to plan, organize, communicate clearly, and set realistic goals (Lynn, 1984, 1987; Stewart and Garson, 1983; Cayer, 1989; Denhardt, 1993; Perry, 1989; Faerman et al., 1990).(1) Effective leaders must also be fair, understanding, knowledgeable of agency politics and experts in their field. They must also be able to adapt their leadership styles and behaviors to the particular circumstances and situations at hand (Stewart and Garson, 1983).

Situational factors, such as political and structural environments, create challenges and opportunities for execucrats to achieve their goals effectively. For example, the resources available, legal mandates, rules and regulations bearing on execucrats, and the policy domain in which they operate will make it easier or harder for them to effect change.

The effectiveness of execucrats will depend upon their experience in government. As we know, execucrats operate in a politically charged setting, characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. Experience in this setting is a tremendous asset, and could spell success or failure for execucrats. …

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