Sunday, March 06, 2011

The political/administrative dichotomy

Discuss in some detail the major theoretical perspectives listed below. In this discussion, first, identify the position of these perspectives towards the politics/administration dichotomy. Second, highlight the most important empirical propositions stemming from these theories and whether the research in the field supports these propositions.

1.1. Political Control of Bureaucracy

1.2. Representative Bureaucracy

The study of the bureaucracy is at the heart of public administration, given that it is the organism that executes the policies created by the politicians. Theories of Political Control of Bureaucracy and Representative Bureaucracy originate from the foundational writings in the field—namely Wilson’s (1887) dichotomy of administration from politics and Waldo’s (1947) rebuttal statement that “Administration is politics.” Particularly these theories stem from how much influence politics has on the bureaucracy in the policy-making process. This essay will first provide the epistemological positions towards the politics/administrative dichotomy, second, it will describe these theories, and finally, it will provide a few examples of the empirical research done to prove or disprove them.

Arguably the father of American political administration, Wilson, in his essay “The Study of Public Administration,” suggested that in order to have objectivity and progress, the administration must be separate from politics. He wrote his essay in 1887, just after the passing of the Pendleton Service Act of 1883, which sought to eliminate nepotism and political cronyism from the bureaucracy. The political/administration dichotomy aimed to separate the power between political leaders and the merit-based appointment of professional permanent civil servants in the administrative state. Shortly after his essay, the field of public administration entered into a stage of rational modeling that advocated government efficiency. At the turn of the 20th century, the field focused on making the bureaucracy more effective by highlighting Weber’s ideal type and Taylor’s scientific management theories. The field’s basic premise was to take a business-like approach to government and its activities.

The idea that politics are interwoven into the administration was not addressed until Simon (1948) pronounced that the field consisted of proverbs and not principles. Simon was among the first to point out that the field of public administration needed to be more practical. Furthermore, Waldo was among the first to evaluate and provide empirical evidence that the administration was not value-neutral but rather often carried the political values. Waldo’s criticism of the politics/administrative dichotomy led to a challenge for the field, which predominated its arguments with this orthodoxy of the separation (Fredrickson and Smith 2003). Thereafter, scholars became more careful to define the roles of each side of the dichotomy. Additionally, scholars began to study more intently the effects of the political domination on the bureaucracies themselves and vice-versa. Next, I will define the theories and thereafter will provide examples of empirical tests to prove or disapprove them.

The political control of the bureaucracy theory simply asks, “Does bureaucracy comply with the laws and the preference of lawmakers?” (Fredrickson and Smith 2003:230). The idea emphasizes the top-down perspective of how government is responsive to the public whom it serves. The theory also questions whether elected officials manipulate the bureaucracy to implement specific policies over others. Often, scholars study the decision-making processes to evaluate the effects elected politicians have on the bureaucracy’s procedures and functions.

Furthermore, the theory of political control of the bureaucracy comes from principal-agent theory. Specifically, the principal is either congress or the president and the agent typically refers to the civil servants. This theory is associated with matters of compliance or responsiveness of elected officials’ wishes. Within this hierarchy, principals try to buy the services of the agents and politicians may attempt to be in command of the activities of the bureaucracies. Agents typically are more knowledgeable about a particular policy, and therefore seek control and autonomy from the political system (Fredrickson and Smith 2003). Often, academics study the outcomes of policies and evaluate the political relationship and influence to that particular agency that provided the service. A related theory is the idea of bureaucratic capture, which argues that an agency may be ruled by a particular set of bureaucratic elites who drive public policy by lobbying the president, congress and other institutional actors for more funds and/or discretion over decision making abilities.

Representational bureaucracy theory suggests that the bureaucracy is another way to represent the people they serve. Elected officials are chosen by “the people” they represent and their actions are held “in check” by periodic elections, which is not typically the case for most bureaucrats. The theory of representational bureaucracy argues that policy implementers may also represent the public whom they serve. This can be done by active versus passive representation, which is a theory that suggests that bureaucrats will more likely to represent their own ethnicity or gender when making public policies. Sometimes this may be favoritism (passive), but it may also form biased decisions (active).

Seeing as how bureaucracies are ultimately organizational structures managed by humans, their behavior is studied in bureaucratic politics. Since most bureaucrats are not elected, the public should scrutinize their actions to ensure they are working for the public good and not for their own benefits. Wilson (1989) studied how and why bureaucratic discretion is exercised to better understand how government action is produced. In his work, he distinguishes between managers and executives to examine administrative compliance. In addition, he theorized that bureaucracy’s reputation is based on an agency’s autonomy. Once an organization has become legitimate, based on the uniqueness of its purpose, it will be able to forge new relationships with other public agencies and a broad range of political actors. This requires political legitimacy, which later enables the bureaucracy to demonstrate its capacity to provide the public (Carpenter, 2001).

Empirical work tests theories to confirm their validity as actually occurring in society. Results can often be seen as inconclusive with various theories finding different conclusions depending on the circumstances. For example, Ringquist (1995) addresses the issue of political control by studying the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act from 1974 to 1987. He found evidence for the political control of bureaucracy, but suggested that for the control to be lasting, it must be institutionalized between congress and the bureaucracy. An agency’s political appointees must share the same political values and goals as the management in order to control their policy efforts. Finally, Ringquist confirms that more salient policy areas will be more likely to have political involvement.

Furthermore, Balla (1998) evaluated if Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) was able to “stack the deck” and influence the outcome of notice and comment process in congress. He sought to evaluate whether this administrative procedure meant more political accountability and enhanced the political control of the bureaucracy. He found that the agency was responsive to physicians (not lobbyists) and did not necessarily mean that congress influenced over the decision making process.

Moe (2005) studied the source of bureaucratic power. He tested the bureaucratic control theory by studying teacher unions in California. He found that politically active, unionized teachers provide evidence of influencing an agency’s policy outcomes. He found that the rank-and-file bureaucrats could also exercise their power in local elections and coordinate their behavior through collective action to change a policy outcome.

O’Leary (1994) studied the Department of Interior (DOI) attempts to implement a bill pertaining to an irrigation project in Nevada. She found that the DOI rank-and-file bureaucrats were able to override the higher-ranking administrators’ directive. In her qualitative study, Department of Wildlife employees ignored agency protocol and formed partnerships with outside groups like the Chambers of Commerce, environmentalist, conservation and Native American groups to lobby support to change the bill. Her study found bureaucratic administrators specializing in environmental matters were not only able to outpace Washington’s laws, but also use their specialization to change the policy outcome.

Additionally, Coleman and Selden (1998) examined passive versus active bureaucratic representation of minorities in the Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) by evaluating whether its policy outcomes reflected minority interests. They found that policy outcomes depended on a bureaucrat’s education, age, perception of their work and political identification. These finds suggests that a bureaucrat may not necessarily produce favorable policies for those groups. Government representatives might have interests that do not necessarily relate to their own gender, race or ethnic identification.

Finally, to conclude, Waldo’s efforts to break the political/administrative dichotomy have been successful and many academics have since found additional ways through which an administration can be political. Through this essay, I have provided the academic background for the political/administrative dichotomy, have defined the theories of bureaucratic control and representative bureaucracy, and finally, have provided empirical evidence that have tested these theories.

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