How much influence should elected politicians wield over bureaucratic policy? Many distinguished scholars and practitioners assert that the answer is “a great deal.” The primary justification for this conclusion is that most bureaucratic policy choices involve fundamentally political value trade-offs, and in a democracy there is a strong presumption that such choices should reflect the interests of electoral majorities. Furthermore, if an elected politician—let us say the President—tends to respond to majoritarian interests, while an administrative agency, if left to its own devices, does not, then it may seem self-evident that giving the politician greater influence over the agency, all else equal, will always increase the degree to which agency decisions reflect voter preferences. This Article argues that this seemingly obvious conclusion is false. Even if we stack the deck in favor of maximum political control by assuming that elected politicians are more responsive to voters than are agencies, and that agencies do not have any special expertise or other advantages, a majority of the electorate is still better off with some degree of bureaucratic insulation from political control.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Stephenson, Matthew C., "OPTIMAL POLITICAL CONTROL OF THE BUREAUCRACY" (2007). Harvard Law School Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 5.