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Shipan: Regulatory regimes, agency actions and the conditional nature of political influence

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Shipan. 2004. Regulatory regimes, agency actions and the conditional nature of political influence. APRS.

In Brief

The literature has found conflicting results as to whether agencies are responsive to the current Congress. (Current Congress--so we're not worried about APAs and agency structure here.) Shipan uses a spatial model to show that reponsiveness depends on the alignment of preferences ("regime") among the agency, committee, and Congress.

The Game


  • Agency (A)
  • Committee (C)
  • Floor (F)

Order of Play

  1. Agency proposes an action, 'a'
  2. Committee either "gatekeeps" (takes no action) or passes a bill.
  3. If committee passes a bill, then floor hears it with an open rule and amends it to match its ideal point.
  • Possible outcomes:
    • Agency passes 'a', committee gatekeeps (does nothing), end.
    • Agency passes 'a', committee passes a bill, floor modifies bill to equal F, end.

Spatial Model

  • Unidimensional space:
    • F* . . . . . . C . . . . . . F
  • Since F* is as far from C as F is, C (committee median) is indifferent between F (floor median) and F*.
  • In the article, Shipan denotes F* as C(F).


Committee-Floor Regime

  • Preferences in this order:
    • A . . . . C(F) . . . . C . . . . F
  • If A proposes 'a' < C(F), the committee will pass a bill. The floor will amend it. Result: F.
  • If A proposes 'a' = C(F), the committee is indifferent between 'a' and F, so it has no incentive to pass a bill. Result C(F).
  • THUS: A passes 'a' = C(F). It is responsive to the committee.
  • As C gets further from F, the range of C(F) to F gets larger. Thus, a larger gap between C and F makes the agency less responsive to F.
    • THUS: Agency is somewhat responsive to Congress.

Gatekeeping Regime

  • Preferences: A is between C(F) and F. Example:
    • C(F) . . A . . C . . . . . F
  • Result: A can always propose its ideal point, and C never has an incentive to act. Thus, A always gets what it wants.
    • THUS: Agency is not responsive to Congress.

Floor Regime

  • Preferences:
    • C(F) . . . . . C . . . . . F . . . . . . . . . . . . . A
  • Result: A proposes its ideal point. C will always pass a bill. F will always amend the bill to match its ideal point. Result is always F.
    • THUS: Agency is perfectly responsive to Congress.

President's Role

  • Shipan ignores presidential veto power. It's too complicated for this model.
  • President can influence A's ideal point (through appointments, reorganization, etc.).
  • Thus, although A does not necessarily equal president's ideal point, A will have the same relationship to C and F that P has.
  • Thus, under the GATEKEEPING regime, the president's ideal point will predict agency outcomes.


Doesn't really change anything.


Examines the FDA over several decades.

  • Y = Number of FDA investigations. More investigations means the FDA is more liberal (huh? Why? Is this valid?).
  • Using ideology scores for presidents, committee means, and floor means, Shipan codes each year as belonging to one of his three regimes.


  • Interactive model. See table 3.
  • Under the committee-floor regime, the committee has a positive influence and the floor has a negative one, as predicted.
  • Under the gatekeeping regime, the president has a weakly positive influence; in the right direction, but not as strong as predicted.
  • Under the floor regime, the floor has a strongly positive influence.


  • The theory-based regression (Table 3) doesn't seem to fit the data better than the atheoretical regression (Table 2; compare R2). This makes me think that it's the control variables that are explaining all the variance in Y, not the main independent variables.
  • Is the operationalization of Y really valid? There is no justification offered that we should think so.