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political scientists and sociologists

The early public choice literature on bureaucracy, launched by William Niskanen, assumed that these agencies would use the information and expertise they gained in administering specific legislative programs to extract the largest budget possible from relatively uninformed, inexpert legislators. Budget maximization was assumed to be the bureaucracy’s goal because more agency funding translates into broader administrative discretion, more opportunities for promotion, and greater prestige for the agency’s bureaucrats.More recently, public choice scholars have adopted a “congressional dominance” model of bureaucracy. In that model, government bureaus are not free to pursue their own agendas. On the contrary, agency policy preferences mirror those of the members of key legislative committees that oversee particular areas of public policy, such as agriculture, international trade, and the judiciary. These oversight committees constrain bureaucratic discretion by exercising their powers to confirm political appointees to senior agency positions, to mark up bureau budget requests, and to hold public hearings. The available evidence does suggest that bureaucratic policymaking is sensitive to changes in oversight committee membership.

Other Institutions

Public choice scholars, such as Gary Anderson, Mark Crain, William Shughart, and Robert Tollison, have not neglected the study of the other major institutions of democratic governance: the president or chief executive officer and the “independent” judiciary. They model the occupants of these positions as self-interested people who, by exercising the power to veto bills, on the one hand, and by ruling on the constitutionality of laws, on the other, add stability to democratic decision-making processes and increase the durability of the favors granted to special-interest groups and, hence, the amounts the groups are willing to pay for them.