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McCubbins, Noll, and Weingast: Administrative procedures as instruments of political control

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Understanding
Bureaucracy

McCubbins, Noll, and Weingast. 1987. Administrative procedures as instruments of political control. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3: 243-277.

In Brief

"Specifically, the hypothesis we put forth is that much of administrative law ... is written for the purpose of helping elected politicians retain control of policymaking." (246)

Place in Literature

The literature mostly looks to active oversight (i.e. "police patrols," monitoring and sanctions) for evidence of political control of the bureaucracy (see McCubbins and Schwartz 1984). However, the high cost of monitoring prevents this from working as well as politicians would like. Like McCubbins and Schwartz (1984), then, this article looks to other means over controlling the bureaucracy (in this case, APAs).

Theory: APAs as instruments of political control

APAs (Administrative Procedures Acts) help overcome information asymmetry. They enable politicians (in executive and legislative branches) to keep administrative decisions in line with their (and their constituents') interests without having to really pay much attention to the bureaucracy.

"By requiring agencies to collect arrd disseminate politically relevant information, Congress and the president make the threat of sanctions a more efficacious control device. Moreover, the administrative system is designed so that some of the costs of enforcement are borne not by politicians, but by constituents and the courts. Finally, administrative procedures affect the costs to agencies of implementing policies that are opposed by groups enfranchised by these procedures. This alters the incentive structure of the agencies and thereby shapes their decisions." (246)