Public Administration as a Function of Executive and Legislative Power
Resh, Willam G. and Haram Lee Zook. “Public Administration as a Function of Executive and Legislative Power,” In Handbook of American Public Administration, ed. H. George Frederickson and Edmund Stazyk. Edward Elgar, 2018.
36 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2020
Date Written: July 28, 2018
In this essay, we explore the question of “who, if anyone, controls the federal bureaucracy?” In doing so, we look at the issue of delegation — a fundamental of American representative democracy. We focus on the two constitutional institutions imbued with direct electorally delegated powers — Congress and the presidency. We put most of our focus on the relationships between elected officials and career bureaucrats at the federal level of government. Indeed, multiple actors within and outside of the federal government participate directly and indirectly in the formation and monitoring of the bureaucracy and participate, partner, or perform its primary function — policy implementation. The complexity of the relationships among this multiplicity of actors, the distribution of power among them, and the different manners by which they exchange information leads to an accumulation of scholarly attempts to model bureaucratic politics using countless different methods. The overwhelming choice of theoretical lens in examining the relationship between elected officials and the administrative state is that of principal–agent theory (PAT), which emanates from economic transaction and contract theory. We explore the assumptions made in the application of this theory to political-bureaucratic relations. In doing so, we argue that the study of bureaucratic politics requires a multidisciplinary approach with a greater appreciation for the contributions of cognate areas of study such as organizational behavior, social psychology, and public management. Also, public administration scholars will do better to incorporate a more deft appreciation for the influence of political institutions on individual bureaucratic behavior.
Keywords: bureaucratic politics, principal-agent theory
JEL Classification: J45, J48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation