Executive Governance: Presidential Administrations and Policy Change in the Federal Bureaucracy

By Cornell G. Hooton | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

1. Presidential Administrations and Federal Bureaus

Observers of the White House have remarked often on the difficulties of directing the agencies of the executive branch. Richard Neustadt ( 1960) in his classic piece on presidential influence writes that presidents cannot rely so much on the powers of command to gain their wishes as on those of persuasion, professional reputation, and public prestige in order to achieve their goals. Presidential student Thomas Cronin remarks that "The federal bureaucracy . . . is one of the most visible checks on a president.... Gaining control over existing bureaucracies and making them work with and for the White House is an enormous burden on the president" ( 1980, 333). Both Richard Fenno ( 1959) and Hugh Heclo ( 1977), in their research on cabinet and subcabinet officials, outline the difficulties presidents have had in directing their own appointees. These and other studies that describe the pressures under which political appointees serve, the variety of ways by which career officials may resist presidents and their appointees, and the difficulties that presidential administrations face in monitoring and directing the multitudes of executive agencies give the impression not only that agencies operate in environments containing pressures that compete with an administration's preferences but also that agencies' own career officials desire goals that frequently conflict with those of presidential administrations. 1

Yet some observations suggest that the career bureaucracies may be more favorably disposed toward presidential administrations than is commonly thought. Samuel Kernell and Samuel Popkin ( 1987) review a conference of past White House chiefs of staff in which participants remarked that appointees lost opportunities by not trusting career officials as much as they could have; James Pfiffner ( 1987) describes a "cycle of accommodation" among top appointees in which they move from mistrust to trust of career staff; and Paul Light ( 1987) reports a survey of appointees in which large majorities of respondents indicated that their careerists were both competent and responsive. 2 James Benze ( 1985) reports, too, from a government-wide survey that 84 percent of career official respondents described a proper role for political executive to be one of advocacy

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