Who controls the bureaucracy? Presidential power, congressional dominance, legal constraints, and bureaucratic autonomy in a model of multi-institutional policy-making

Thomas H. Hammond, Jack H. Knott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In the past 15 years a scholarly debate has developed in the United States over the question "Who controls the bureaucracy?" Some have argued that Congress has a dominant influence on the bureaucracy, some that the president plays the major role in managing the bureaucracy, and others have emphasized the role of legal constraints on the bureaucracy, as enforced by the courts. Still others have asserted that the bureaucracy has a substantial amount of autonomy from the president, Congress, and courts. This article presents a formal model of multi-institutional policy-making that illuminates several key aspects of this debate. The model shows that there are conditions under which an agency will have considerable autonomy and conditions under which it will have virtually none. The model also shows that when an agency lacks autonomy, control of the agency usually cannot be attributed to just one institution. Finally, the model has some important implications for empirical tests of hypotheses about who controls the bureaucracy; among them is the fact that the empirical literature on control of the bureaucracy is based on a logic that gives a seriously incomplete picture of how the bureaucracy is controlled and who controls it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-166
Number of pages48
JournalJournal of Law, Economics, and Organization
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Law

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