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modeling the behavior of individuals


Owing to the benefits of specialization and division of labor, legislatures delegate responsibility for implementing their policy initiatives to various departments and agencies staffed by career bureaucrats, who secure their positions through civil service appointment rather than by democratic election. 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.