Bureaucratic Autonomy in the U.S. Separation of Powers: Evidence from Cabinet Departments

Anthony M. Bertelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Theories of delegation posit that politicians have the incentive to decrease discretion when ideological conflict with an administrative agency increases. Yet agencies can use their expertise to appropriate informational benefits from delegation helping to increase bureaucratic autonomy. Such theories only indirectly address the impact of ideological conflict on bureaucrats’ perceptions about the extent of the discretion they are afforded on the job. Does the perception of discretion by bureaucrats depend on ideological conflicts between the legislative and executive branches? Statistical results from dynamic panel models provide evidence that that closer ideological alignment with the U.S. Congress than the president increases perceived discretion; that a negative relationship emerges between confirmation times and perceived discretion, but a small and opposite relationship exists among supervisory levels; that variance in the ideological portfolio of cabinet secretaries decreases perceived discretion overall, but has no effect on supervisory cadres; and that divergence between the goals and legal context of an agency and the president’s policy orientation are associated with lower perceived discretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-151
Number of pages13
JournalPublic Organization Review
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

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Keywords

  • Bureaucratic discretion
  • Delegation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Law

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