The Dynamics of Political Control of the Bureaucracy

B. Dan Wood, Richard W. Waterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

503 Scopus citations


A new paradigm of political-bureaucratic relations emerged through the 1980s holding that U.S. democratic institutions continuously shape nonelective public bureaucracies. Several empirical studies support the paradigm with evidence suggestive of political manipulation but none reveals the scope or specific mechanisms of political control. We explore the dynamics of political control of the bureaucracy explicitly to determine the scope and mechanisms. We examine output time series from seven different public bureaucracies for responsiveness to political tools applied in the late Carter and early Reagan administrations. We find responsiveness in all seven cases. The evidence also shows that political appointments—a shared power of the president and Congress—is the most important instrument of political control; changing budgets, legislation, congressional signals, and administrative reorganizations are less important. These findings confirm intuitive assertions by institutional scholars and suggest a method of “policy monitoring” that could enhance future democratic control of the bureaucracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-828
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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