Rethinking Loyalty and Competence in Presidential Appointments

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11 Scopus citations


Studies in presidential appointments, particularly principal-agent models, posit that presidents employ a top-down strategy to control the bureaucracy, one that promotes loyalty over competence. However, many studies have two critical limitations: (1) treating loyalty and competence as binary constructs and (2) focusing only on presidential nomination and Senate confirmation (PAS) appointments. In this article, the authors construct a continuous measure of loyalty and competence to determine how much loyalty or competence an appointee offers a president and examine other appointment tools—Senior Executive Service (SES), Schedule C, and presidential appointments—that allow presidents to influence different levels of the bureaucracy. Findings show that presidents are more likely to reward competence with their PAS and SES appointments. In addition, few appointees score high on both loyalty and competence, explaining why presidents generally must make a trade-off between loyalty and competence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-732
Number of pages16
JournalPublic Administration Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by The American Society for Public Administration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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