Weingast and Moran: Bureaucratic discretion or Congressional control
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Weingast and Moran. 1983. Bureaucratic discretion or Congressional control. Journal of Political Economy.
Congress, especially its subcommittees, exercises systematic control over the bureaucracy. This is illustrated by the experience of the FTC in the 1970s.
Place in the Literature
- Stands with: Congressional dominance (but uses a different approach than Stigler 1971 and Peltzman 1976; see Moe 1987a for a comparison of the two approaches).
- Stands against:
- Independent bureaucracy approach (Wilson 1975, 1980; Dodd and Schott 1979) holds that the bureaucracy acts largely according to its own dictates. Arnold 1979 may also be interpreted in this tradition.
- Presidential influence: Moe's arguments.
- Major critique: Moe (1987b) trashed this piece. The FTC underwent a major reorganization following a presidential initiative, not from Congressional influence. W&M completely ignore what was going on inside the bureaucracy. They assume, rather than prove, Congress controls the bureaucracy, then find spurious evidence as a result of an underspecified model.
W&M argue that, because of the law of anticipated reactions, an independent bureaucracy and a congressionally dominated bureaucracy are usually observationally equivalent. Lack of congressional oversight hearings does not necessarily imply an independent bureaucracy.
W&M point to three factors that allow congress to exercise control: 1) the budgetary process, 2) threat of active oversight, and 3) control over appointments and reappointments.
Because of the reelection incentive, Congress organizes itself into committees with near-monopoly jurisdiction over a small set of policy issues. Then members self-select onto their most important committees. Thus, the subcommittee's preferences, especially those of the chair, are more important than the overall floor preference.
Evidence: The FTC
The FTC was not a very active agency until the 1970s, when it took on an increasingly large number of high-profile and economically important cases. In 1979-81, Congress acted to reign in the FTC's actions.
W&M argue that the FTC was acting according to [Senate] subcommittee preferences all along. There was an almost total turnover in committee membership in 1977. The subcommittee went from being very activist (as measured by ADA scores) to very conservative.
W&M investigate whether the FTC investigated the kinds of cases that subcommittee members preferred in the 1964-1976 period using a logit (loglinear) model. Their empirics had some serious problems, so they redid this entire piece in Calvert, Moran, and Weingast (1986).
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