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Politicization of Public Services in Comparative Perspective  

John Halligan

The politicization of public services has been a relentless trend in public administration internationally. It can be attributed to the increasing demands on executive government, heightened partisanship and polarization, higher expectations about achieving official goals, and contextual factors that dilute the neutrality of the bureaucracy. It is also apparent that the spread of politicization has increased (i.e., encompassing countries once thought to be low on politicization) as has its breadth and depth (often extending down the bureaucracy and affecting a wide range of public servants). Within this broader trend, the timing and pace of politicization has varied widely among countries, some having long histories (several of the classic models of the “political civil servant”) and others being newcomers. Politicization takes a number of forms, most of which focus on political control and influence. Often there is a dominant instrument, such as relying on politically committed appointees, but multiple levers apply in many cases. A remarkable range of approaches has evolved to address political control. The rationale for particular types is generally shaped by an administrative tradition and reflects country contexts and circumstances. A strong case exists for partisan support to enhance the capacity of political executives, to counterbalance the vested interests of bureaucrats, to facilitate coalition government, and to ensure support at the top for government objectives and priorities. However, politicization can be arbitrary, chaotic, rampant, and overly focused on partisan and individual interests.

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.