(the ICC received over five thousand applications for operating rights each year).45
Broader political beliefs also may affect the environment in which the agencies work. At one time, the daily business of a government agency was of no interest to the media unless there was a juicy scandal or a grant to the hometown folks. The emergence of a new generation of reporters with a more adversarial stance toward government has changed that somewhat. Now, "whistle-blowers" can claim the attention of journalists more easily. Members of Congress and their staffs once believed that regulating prices and conditions of entry into an industry was the right thing to do; now many are inclined to believe that where competition exists prices are best set by the market. The risks of accident and disease in the workplace were always matters for the individual employee to worry about; today these risks are also a matter of government concern. At one time, a manufacturer was responsible for defects in its products only if they were the result of negligence; today many firms are liable even if there was no negligence. This changed political and intellectual environment has altered the balance of forces with which the members of an agency must cope.
Government agencies are not billiard balls driven hither and yon by the impact of forces and interests. When bureaucrats are free to choose a course of action their choices will reflect the full array of incentives operating on them: some will reflect the need to manage a workload; others will reflect the expectations of workplace peers and professional colleagues elsewhere; still others may reflect their own convictions.
And some will reflect the needs of clients; that is, those people or groups that are affected disproportionately by the actions of the agency. The impact of organized interests on agency behavior will depend on at least four factors: the extent to which the legislature wants and expects there to be an impact; the degree of discretionary authority possessed by agency members; the array of interests in the agency's environment; and the relationship between desired behavior and client incentives.
If Congress wants an agency to tend to the needs of a group, it usually makes that preference clear. If it seems not to care, or some parts of Congress want an interest helped and others do not, the agency is likely to be given a lot of discretion that will then be used in a (usually vain) effort to stay out of trouble. How it uses that discretion will be influenced by whether the costs and benefits of its policies are distributed so as to create an environment consisting of clients, entrepreneurs, interest groups,