A common refrain among White House observers is that the federal bureaucracies are not responsive to presidents and their administrations. The refrain echoes in academic literature, which has paid much attention to the state of bureaucratic responsiveness and the need for an administrative presidency: to make appointments, to oversee budgets, and to track policies among some three million members of the federal government. 1 Within that government, the federal bureau stands at the crossroads of politics, policy, and profession. Bureaus must turn complex conceptual programs into applied realities. They must negotiate with a variety of actors upon whom program success depends. They must report program results and seek to satisfy both congressional and executive branch superiors, all while adhering to court rulings and law.
Despite the chorus decrying bureaucratic independence and unresponsiveness, reasonable cause still exists to ask whether, within the constraining political, organizational, and policy environments of implementation, federal bureaus are more responsive than is commonly conceived. This study focuses on the career staffers who make up the federal bureaus at the heart of the "permanent" government. It examines how these people, as organized groups, respond to the policy preferences of presidential administrations. This focus, although informed by a review of the surrounding politics and policies, remains relatively tightly aimed at relations among career officials and the operations within executive agencies. The study aims thereby to uncover and explore internal processes that systematically shape the behavior of federal bureaus as aggregates of actors, but such processes may not be readily observable from either more casual external study or study at higher levels of aggregation.
Over the years, students of government have examined a variety of political, administrative, and organizational considerations that together make a strong case for federal intractability to presidential direction. Indeed, thought on the difficulties of managing federal bureaucracies goes back through the early part of this century. By 1921 Congress had even passed legislation establishing a Bureau of the Budget, primarily to help the president present a unified federal budget to Congress ( Berman 1979). But government and its administration did