Are independent non-partisan commissions affected by a set of ubiquitous political factors that influence decisions? This article explores whether delegating politically controversial decisions to independent non-partisan commissions alters the dynamics of decision-making. It examines the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission Recommendations for 1991 and 1993 using state as the unit of analysis.
Regression models test the influence of four sets of independent variables on defense spending decisions made through the normal appropriations process and on base closing recommendations. The four major influences tested are: 1) geographic and demographic variables; 2) gubernatorial power; 3) influence and ideology of the state's congressional delegation; and 4) influence of the state in presidential elections.
The same pattern of independent variable influence found on pork barrel spending decisions was found to persist for base closing recommendations with sight differences. The two most important variables in both types of decisions are state size and membership from the state congressional delegation on key House committees.
Congress, with the approval of the President, has periodically delegated controversial decisions and decision-making authority to independent non-partisan commissions. The creation of the Federal Reserve was a way to remove the potentially controversial regulation of the nation's money supply from partisan influences in the legislative and executive branches. Similarly, part of the rationale for the creation of independent bipartisan regulatory commissions, ranging from the creation of the Federal Trade Commission in 1914 to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1972, was to remove politics from "good government" decisions about the industries (Whicker,1993:46).
More recently, Congress has established commissions to tackle various government reforms. These included the commission to reform social security during the early 1980s, the Grace Commission to trim waste in government, and the National Economic Commission (NEC) to tackle the federal deficit. Some, namely the Social Security Commission, have been more successful than others. Critics contend that the Grace Commission resulted in more thunder than rain and the NEC, after a short existence, faded into oblivion.
Despite criticisms, the nonpartisan commission structure was employed in 1991 and 1993 by Congress to close military bases. Its success in shutting down unneeded bases has been praised and supporters of this structure have recommended that it be used more extensively to rid government of unwanted and outdated agencies that otherwise refuse to die.
Recommendation two of the highly anticipated Winter Commission (1993:17-18) report on state and local government reform contends that government officials and politicians should "temper the fragmentation of government by consolidating or eliminating as many overlapping or underperforming units as possible through a 'base-closure' approach". The commission report contends that, "Given the resistance to eliminating and consolidating agencies on a case-by-case basis, the Commission urges establishing of similar reform commissions in state and local governments. Although we recognize that setting up the Congressional base-closing process was of itself a highly political exercise--one that took leadership and courage--it did ultimately achieve its goal" (Ibid., 18-19).
But what was the goal of the base closing process? Was it to enable controversial decisions to be made that would otherwise be difficult in the highly charged partisan environment of Congress? Or was the base-closure goal to alter the dynamics of decision-making and render different and "better" decision outcomes that were less political, more rational, and more efficient in character? In recommending that state and local governments emulate congressional delegation of decision-making to the base closing commission, the Winter report does not identify which of these two goals were met in the base closing process. …