Administrative burden: Learning, psychological, and compliance costs in citizen-state interactions

Donald Moynihan, Pamela Herd, Hope Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

322 Scopus citations


This article offers two theoretical contributions. First, we develop the concept of administrative burden as an important variable in understanding how citizens experience the state. Administrative burden is conceptualized as a function of learning, psychological, and compliance costs that citizens experience in their interactions with government. Second, we argue that administrative burden is a venue of politics, that is, the level of administrative burden placed on an individual, as well as the distribution of burden between the state and the individual, will often be a function of deliberate political choice rather than simply a product of historical accident or neglect. The opaque nature of administrative burdens may facilitate their use as forms of "hidden politics," where significant policy changes occur without broad political consideration. We illustrate this argument via an analysis of the evolution of Medicaid policies in the state of Wisconsin. Across three Governorships, the level of burden evolved in ways consistent with the differing political philosophies of each Governor, with federal actors playing a secondary but important role in shaping burden in this intergovernmental program. We conclude by sketching a research agenda centered on administrative burden.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-69
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our project also benefited from data provided to us by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Population Health Institute, which was collected as part of a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Our thanks to Tom Oliver and Donna Friedsam for sharing these data and for their helpful advice on our research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Author 2014.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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