The idea of a clear separation between policymaking and implementation is difficult to sustain for policy bureaucracies in which public officials have “policy work” as their main activity. A diverse body of scholarship indicates that bureaucrats may enjoy substantial levels of discretion in defining the nature of policy problems and elaborating on policy alternatives. This observation raises questions about the conditions under which bureaucratic policy ideas make their way into authoritative policy decisions, the nature of those policy ideas, and how bureaucratic policymaking has evolved. A main point is that bureaucratic policy ideas are developed in a political context, meaning that bureaucrats have to anticipate that political decision makers will eventually have to endorse a policy proposal. The power relations between politicians and bureaucrats may, however, vary, and bureaucrats may gain the upper hand, which is likely if a bureaucracy is professionally homogenous and able to develop a coherent policy idea. Another perspective concerns the origins of policy ideas. There is limited evidence for individual-level explanations of policy ideas, according to which bureaucrats pursue exogenously defined preferences to maximize their own utility. A competing organizational perspective, which considers policy preferences as the result of organizational specialization, the development of local rationalities, and the defense of organizational turf, stands out as a more plausible explanation for the origins of bureaucratic policy ideas. The policymaking role, and thereby the importance of bureaucratic policy ideas, is being challenged by the rise of ministerial advisors, agencification, and better regulation reforms. Those developments have the potential to change the substance of bureaucratic policy ideas, but they may also generate strategic behavior, which should be of interest to scholars of the politics of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracies and Policy Ideas
Agencification in Public Administration
Koen Verhoest, Sandra van Thiel, and Steven F. De Vadder
Agencification is the creation of semi-autonomous agencies: organizations charged with public tasks like policy implementation, regulation, and public service delivery, operating at arm’s length from the government. Although not a new development, agencification became very popular from the 1980s on as part of the New Public Management reforms. Three types of agencies can be distinguished, based predominantly on their formal legal features. Type 1 agencies have some managerial autonomy but do not have their own legal identity separate from the state or their parent ministry. Type 2 agencies are organizations and bodies with managerial autonomy that have their own legal identity separate from the state or their parent ministry. Type 3 organizations have their own legal identity vested in, and defined by, private law and are established by, or on behalf of, the government in the form of a private law corporation, company, or a foundation, but they are predominantly controlled by government and are at least partially involved in executing public tasks. Specific characteristics of agencies differ between countries and findings show few systematic patterns: similar tasks are charged to different types of agencies. A crucial element in the functioning of agencies is the formal and de facto interplay of autonomy and control, and how this can be explained in a static and dynamic way. Studies about agencification list three main categories of its effects: economic, organizational, and political effects. However, there is still a lot that needs to be studied about agencification, its forms, and its effects.