Principal-Actor Models and the Modern Executive Bureaucracy

Through my undergraduate study, I have become increasingly fascinated with the role of the executive bureaucracy in American government.  The executive bureaucracy has, particularly over the course of the last two presidencies, seen extensive growth in its size and scope.  Given the current political climate of much of the American electorate, perhaps best evidenced by the growth of the Tea Party movement and the political philosophy that informs it, concern over the size of federal government naturally leads to questions of the scope and role of the executive bureaucracy in the execution of government.  While a bureaucracy under the executive is no doubt necessary to the execution and administration of policy under the Presidency, its responsiveness to the dictates and will of the elected branches seems to be of primary concern.

In particular, it seems a reasonable question to ask is whether the Presidency or even Congress remains institutionally capable of reigning in or pointing the direction of a burgeoning executive bureaucracy, such that it remains effective and corresponds with the political vision of these elected bodies and with republican principles.  Just how much control do these two elected branches have, in practice, on shaping, steering, and/or dismantling executive bureaucracies?  Who effectively has more control, Congress or the President, and is it even rightly considered “control”? It seems that if they can’t exert this type of adequate control over the executive bureaucracy, then it must be essentially considered a fourth, independent branch of federal government, and then it is an open question whether the idea of a bureaucratic state in this manner still meets the standards of republicanism as would be hoped.

Specifically, this paper will aim for an analysis of controls on the modern executive bureaucracy through a treatment of the principal-agent economic models forwarded and developed by Dr. Terry Moe and others.  I also intend to include a survey of what fields the federal bureaucracy has come to control in policy administration, particularly with regards to its growth over the past 10-20 years.  Perhaps the inclusion of Congress might be overstepping what can be reasonably examined in a project of this scope, and it would be better to focus on the Presidency alone, but I would be remiss to not acknowledge the role Congress has with regards to bureaucratic oversight and budget.  In general, I would love for comments on how to better focus and streamline the topic if it be too unwieldy.  I look forward to exploring this topic and receiving your input and suggestions, just as I am excited to see all the great topics that have been chosen by all of you develop!


About John Nickerson

I'm a cadet at the Air Force Academy, class of 2012. My major is political science, w/ a minor in philosophy. I intend to research the effectiveness of executive and congressional controls on the executive bureaucracy. In addition to school, I play for the school's competitive rugby team, and I enjoy reading, playing piano, and aquariums.
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