Who are the policy workers and what are they doing?

My first paper in a new project on democratic accountability in a world of complex governance has been accepted by Public Performance Management Review.  Some of the ideas in this project were presented in my Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professorship Lecture at New York University Law School.  A fuller exposition of these ideas will appear in a book, currently under contract with Cambridge University Press.

It will appear in a symposium issue following a wonderful session at last year’s meeting of the American Society of Public Administration in Chicago organized by Kaifeng Yang and Mel Dubnick.  Here’s the abstract:

Two critical questions for the study of accountability in contemporary governance can focus attention on the citizen, rather than the official. I begin with the question of whether a citizen can identify a policy worker—that is, the bureaucrat, contractor, or other actor acting in pursuit of a legislated policy goal. I then turn to whether a citizen can evaluate policy work that is done to further a legislated policy goal. Both identification and evaluation prove tricky to assess in a great deal of policy work, leaving accountability an important, but elusive, democratic value. This paper provides a framework for analysts to understand when and why accountability works from a citizen’s perspective and what incentives policy workers and politicians have when it does.

 

New Research – Media Response to Agency Termination: Out with a whimper?

A second paper from my part of the Economic and Social Research Council funded Shrinking the State project has now been accepted for publication. Media Attention and the Demise of Agency Independence: Evidence from a Mass Administrative Reorganization in Britain written with my NYU Wagner colleague Andy Sinclair and USC Price doctoral student Haram Lee is forthcoming in Public Administration.  This is Haram’s first publication, so we’re very excited about that.  Here’s the abstract:

When administrative agencies are terminated, do they quietly fade from public view? On the one hand, the terminated agencies may have weak issue networks and agency reputations allowing them to lose public salience. On the other hand, strong issue networks and agency reputations may mean that termination increases attention to the agencies, making the government pay the cost of public attention generated by the actors within the issue networks. We assess these competing claims by using a unique dataset from a recent mass reorganization of independent agencies in Britain as well as data capturing media attention to agencies in major national newspapers. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that the agencies subject to termination experience reductions in the number of media coverage in major newspapers, disappearing from public view during the post-decision reform period.

The paper is available via SSRN.

New Research – Media Attention and Agency Termination

I am pleased to announce that my contributions to the Shrinking the State project are making their way into publication. “Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information” with my colleague on the project and at the Wagner School, Andy Sinclair, is now forthcoming in Public Administration Review.  Here’s the abstract:

How does media attention influence government decisions about whether to terminate independent administrative agencies? We argue that an agency’s salience with partisan audiences has a direct effect, but a high media profile can disrupt normal government monitoring processes and obfuscate termination decisions. We evaluate our argument in the context of a recent mass administrative reorganization by the British coalition government using probit and heteroscedastic probit regression models. Evidence suggests that termination is less likely for agencies salient in newspapers popular with the government’s core supporters, but not those read by its minority coalition partner. We also find that agencies with greater overall newspaper salience as well as younger agencies have a higher error variance.

The paper and its supplementary appendix is available via SSRN.

New Research – Measuring Attributes with Attitudes

I am very pleased to report that a paper entitled “Measuring Agency Attributes with Attitudes Across Time: A Method and Examples Using Large-Scale Federal Surveys” and written with USC Price School Ph.D students Dyana Mason, Jennifer Connolly and David Gastwirth is forthcoming in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory.  Public management researchers are interested in many characteristics of organizations that cannot be directly captured, making aggregated attitudes from surveys an attractive proxy.  Yet difficulties in measuring meaningful attributes over time and across organizations have frequently limited statistical designs to a single organization or time. We offer a method for creating such statistical measures across agencies and time using item response theory.  Focusing our attention on U.S. federal administrative agencies, we marshal a variety of questions from surveys commissioned by the Office of Personnel Management and Merit Systems Protection Board and employ statistical models to measure three important attributes — autonomy, job satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation — for 71 agencies between 1998-2010.  Our study provides a wealth of data for quantitative public management research designs as well as an adaptable framework for measuring a wide range of concepts. A previous version of this paper won the Herbert Kaufman Award from the American Political Science Association.  We were fortunate to receive funding for this project from the Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise.  The paper is available here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2265678.  We hope you find it of interest!

Shrinking the State

This spring, I was pleased to begin a three year project with Matt Flinders (University of Sheffield) and Chris Skelcher (University of Birmingham) that will analyze the UK Coalition Government’s major reform of ‘arm’s length bodies’ (ALBs – often called ‘quangos’). Quangos are a frequent focus for public, political and media criticism, regarded as unaccountable, wasteful and self-serving. Yet they are also indispensible to modern government, preventing ministers from becoming overloaded, bringing expert advice and management to complex policy issues, and undertaking regulatory and quasi-judicial tasks that need to be politically independent.  I have long been interested in these bodies and have analyzed patterns of discretion in Dutch and transparency in British ALBs among a series of papers on the topic.  It is a great privilege to be working with Matt and Chris on this project, as well as with our research fellows Kate Dommett and Katie Tonkiss.

The study asks a number of questions including:

  • Why have arm’s length bodies been so durable in the face of political and public hostility?
  • What are the consequences of reforming arm’s length bodies for ministers, Parliament, civil servants, and those organisations and individuals who use their services?
  • Are there other ways in which delegation of executive, regulatory, quasi-judicial or advisory authority might be designed, and what is the international experience?

As the project unfolds, I will offer some reflections and results here.