Politics in Bureaucracies


This course studies what government agencies do and why. The course is divided into four sections. Section 1 introduces a theoretical framework for studying bureaucrats and bureaucracies as political actors in a democracy. We will study the conceptual distinction between politics and administration, examine theories of organization, and introduce principal-agent theory as a tool for studying public bureaucracy. In Section 2 we study the relationship between the elected branches of government and the bureaucracy. We will study the tradeoffs that politicians face when delegating authority to bureaucracies and how politicians, citizens, and interest groups influence the actions of government agencies. In Section 3, we examine who bureaucrats are, what they value, and how political and organizational factors shape their incentives and influence their actions. Section 4 studies bureaucratic capacity and accountability. We will study why some bureaucracies are highly capable of executing their mission and why others fail and why some bureaucracies act in the interests of citizens while others do not. Special attention is paid to four related phenomena that threaten bureaucratic capacity and accountability: politicization, patronage, corruption, and regulatory capture.
Course Attributes: EN S; BU BA; AS SSC; FA SSC