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

By Cornell G. Hooton | Go to book overview

8
Directing Federal Bureaus

When political executives take charge of a departmental bureau, they face a variety of constraints on their efforts to change policy: external pressures, limited administrative resources (budget, materials, labor, legal authority), organizational peculiarities in communication and coordination (divisions of labor, spans of control, distributions of expertise and knowledge), and careerists' preferences and dispositions. These features change the amount of time, energy, and attention that political executives must give in order to change the policies of their bureaus. Some of the increased efforts do stem from the ideological preferences and dispositions among the career officials of a bureau; the preferences of careerists can raise barriers to political executives' preferred policies. Other difficulties in the administrative implementation of policy stem, however, from a set of established internal relations, processes, and mechanisms of adaptation that is characteristic of the federal bureau as an organization. These areas of difficulty differ from each other, and our studies of policy change should not misattribute the differing internal difficulties of change to a single item, such as careerists' ideological preferences or adherence to standard operating procedures, that has itself been oversimplified to the point of caricature. Federal bureaus, as sociopolitical phenomena, are more complex and sophisticated than our textbooks frequently portray (see also Goodsell 1994). Indeed, it appears that much of the difficulty often attributed to SOP stems not so much from an adherence to extant formal practices as from the difficulties of creating new, well-defined understandings, criteria, procedures, and practices. The difficulties with which bureau members operationalize new policies make the already established understandings, standards, and practices a set of "default settings" that hold until new policies develop fully. To uncover major facets of policy change, this study surveys the sources of guidance that prevailed among the policy evaluations of careerists and the smaller number of political executives who oversaw them. In so doing, the study places the top-down policy preferences of a presidential administration into a behavioral, bottom-up organizational framework. The research thus helps to reveal how "willing" federal bureaus are, as units, to respond to political executives, and how executives can better gain the adoption and maintenance of their preferences.

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