Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Organizational Complexity and Coordination Dilemmas in U.S. Executive Politics

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Organizational Complexity and Coordination Dilemmas in U.S. Executive Politics

Article excerpt

American presidents are capable of imposing their will on administrative agencies. Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this has been the centralization of major executive branch regulatory review procedures through Executive Order nos. 12291 and 12498 issued by President Ronald Reagan, and Executive Order no. 13422 issued by President George W. Bush. These executive orders were intended to both centralize and politicize agency rulemaking activities by requiring approval from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget. Because of collective-action problems and the costly nature of attempting to overturn these executive policy directives, Congress rarely is effective at halting such presidential attempts to control the bureaucracy (Mayer 2001, 130; Moe 1993; Moe 1995: 430-431; Moe and Howell 1999). Presidents also exert their authority over administrative agencies through budgetary agenda-setting power (Moe and Wilson 1994, 36), the strategic selection of political executives (Lewis 2008; Moe 1985; Nathan 1983), and their comparative advantage over Congress attributable to less severe coordination problems (Moe 1995). These formal mechanisms of presidential control over executive administration rest solely on the application of expressed or implied constitutional powers.

Yet a richer understanding of presidential-bureaucratic relations requires a focus on coordinated executive action, as opposed to unilateral presidential action. This is because the inherent organizational dilemmas that presidents confront in the chief executive role cannot be overcome solely by the exercise of formal authority. As Norton E. Long noted more than half a century ago regarding the administrative presidency, "The personal unity of the Presidency cannot perform the function of Hobbes' sovereign since his office lacks the authority of Hobbes' contract. Single headedness in the executive gives no assurance of singleness of purpose. It only insures that the significant pressures in a society will be brought to bear on one office" (1949, 260). Harold Seidman and Robert Gilmour assert that "a president does not enforce his will by dictate" (1986, 79). Analyses grounded exclusively in formal executive powers understate organizational complexity, and thus overstate presidential capacity for controlling the bureaucracy. This problem is further exacerbated because presidents provide little attention to the finer details of "administrative management" (West 2006, 452).

The purpose of this essay is to argue that the inherent organizational dilemmas confronted by presidents in executive administration deserve systematic scholarly inquiry. These organizational dilemmas are extraconstitutional insofar as they exist independent of either expressed or implied constitutional powers. Specifically, I discuss the organizational complexities associated with the executive branch and how they limit presidential capacity for effective control over executive administration. These organizational complexities result in problems pertaining to (1) vertical coordination between presidents and their subordinates (both political and agency executives), (2) horizontal coordination among subordinates, and (3) credible commitments arising from both presidents' and political executives' relatively short tenure in office. All three forces serve to undermine the institutional presidency's ability to effectively coordinate action within the executive branch of government. Also, I sketch out the elements of a research agenda intended to systematically analyze the conditions under which these organizational complexities may affect presidential capacity to control executive administration.

The outline of this essay is as follows. I discuss the relevance of organizational theory for analyzing problems inherent in presidential control of the bureaucracy. In this section, I also provide some case-specific illustrations of how organizational complexities adversely affect presidential capacity to shape executive branch policy making. …

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