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Article

How Effective are Political Appointees?  

Gary E. Hollibaugh Jr.

Research in public administration and political science in the late 20th century and early 21st century has identified several factors influencing the effectiveness of political appointees, with a particular emphasis on the United States (given the outsized role of political appointees in the American system relative to those of other industrialized democracies). Within the American system, the advice and consent process means that acting and interim officials often run agencies and departments while nominees await Senate confirmation; however, that these individuals lack the perceived legitimacy that accompanies Senate confirmation means they are (often) less effective at ensuring bureaucratic acquiescence to the preferences of the president. Additionally, confirmed nominees can also run into trouble, as many are often appointed by presidents to “rein in” the departments or agencies they are chosen to oversee; this can result in deterioration in the relationship between themselves and careerists, which ultimately reduces the effectiveness of appointees. Individual variations in the leadership style of appointees in the United States can also affect their effectiveness and abilities to work with careerists. And scholars should spend time and effort considering the theoretical foundations of what it means to be “effective” and perhaps consider the development of new empirical operationalizations thereof. Accordingly, there is merit in assessing pertinent experience in other jurisdictions, including in Britain and South Korea to which brief reference is made in the discussion.

Article

Bureaucracies and Policy Ideas  

Tobias Bach

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.

Article

International Law and Foreign Policy  

Joel H. Westra

Policymakers regularly face decisions pertaining to the making of international law and compliance with international law. International relations scholars have attempted to explain the broad patterns of state behavior that emerge from such decisions by approaching international lawmaking and international legal compliance from the perspectives of state power, interests, and identity. These explanations reflect the growing interdisciplinary connections between the study of international law and the study of international relations. Although there have been fewer interdisciplinary connections between the study of international law and models of foreign policy decision-making, closer examination of each of the main international relations approaches to international lawmaking and international legal compliance suggests corresponding models of foreign policy decision-making. Further work remains to develop these connections and to incorporate transnational actors and processes into the analysis of foreign policy decision-making. Such work has both scholarly and practical relevance, insofar as foreign policy decision-making takes place in an increasingly legalized international environment even as the existing, post–World War II international order faces increasing challenges from nonliberal states.

Article

The U.S. Politico–Military–Industrial Complex  

John A. Alic

The three large military services—Army, Navy, and Air Force—comprise the core of the U.S. politico–military–industrial complex. They dominate decision making on multi-billion dollar weapon systems and the operational concepts these are intended to embody. The armed forces need private firms to realize their visions of new weaponry, since government has limited capacity in engineering design and development and limited production facilities. Running a successful defense business means giving the services what they want, or think they want, whether this makes technical and operational sense or not; thus industry caters to the views of the services, and while it seeks to influence them, does so mostly at the margins. The political dynamics of the complex take place in two primary domains, only loosely coupled. The first is largely contained within the Defense Department. This is the main arena for conflict and bargaining within and among the services and between the services, individually and collectively, and Pentagon civilians. Most of what happens here stays hidden from outsiders. Service leaders generally seek to resolve disagreements among themselves; the goal, often although not always achieved, is to present a united front to civilian officials and the public at large. The second domain extends to the rest of government, chiefly Congress, with its multiple committees and subcommittees, and the White House, home of the powerful Office of Management and Budget among other sources of policy leverage. The complex as a whole is an artifact of the Cold War, not greatly changed over the decades. Repeated efforts at restructuring and reform have led to little. The primary reason is that military leaders, senior officers who have reached the topmost ranks after lengthy immersion in generally conservative organizational cultures, usually have the upper hand in bureaucratic struggles. They believe the military’s views on choice of weapons—the views of seasoned professionals—should have precedence over those of civilians, whether Pentagon appointees and their staffs, elected officials, or outside experts. They usually prevail, since few of the political appointees on the civilian side of DoD and in policy-influencing positions elsewhere can command similar authority. If they do not prevail on a particular issue, service leaders expect to outwait their opponents; if they lose one battle over money or some cherished weapon system, they anticipate winning the next.

Article

Multiple Perspectives and Comparative Case Studies of Crisis Decision Making  

David Patrick Houghton

Crisis decision making is characterized by a profound degree of uncertainty, the centralization of power, increased communications and argumentation both within and between organizations, management and eventual resolution of the problem, and a period of lesson-drawing. Deeper understanding of different cases of crisis decision making is enhanced by using contrasting theoretical “cuts.” There are four major approaches to crisis decision making: the rational actor approach, the cognitive perspective, the bureaucratic-organizational perspective, and the domestic politics approach. Three case studies—the Cuban missile crisis, the Yom Kippur crisis, and the Iran hostage crisis—can be examined from the vantage point of each of these four theoretical perspectives, as each theory adds something valuable to our overall understanding of the nature of crisis itself.