Menu Adam R Brown

Notes navigation: Browse by titleBrowse by authorSubject index

Bawn: Political control versus expertise

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Bawn. 1995. Political control versus expertise: Congressional choices about administrative procedures. APSR 89:62-73.


When delegating to agencies, Congressional coalitions (C) must minimize either procedural uncertainty (what will the agency do?) or technical uncertainty (is this the best regulation?); there is a tradeoff. Thus, the degree of agency independence (i.e. the strictness of of procedural rules) (Y) "reflects the legislature's willingness to trade uncertainty about policy consequences for uncertainty about agency behavior" (p 63).


Administrative procedures determine which external "signals" an agency hears: does it listen mostly to the industries it regulates (as in "capture" theory), to oversight committees (congressional dominance theory), or to itself (bureaucrat's ideology or professionalism)? Because "procedures determine the relative strenghts of signals received from different groups" (p 65), procedures can determine "the location of an agency's ideal point." However, there is uncertainty for C in how procedure's will affect A's (the agency's) ideal point. Thus, C uses procedures to determine the distribution of ideal points (both its mean and spread) from which A's ideal point will be drawn.


Increasing independence allows A to incorporate more knowledge of policy consequences into its decisions. Thus, technical uncertainty falls as political uncertainty (independence) rises.


Research on similar subjects


American PoliticsPrincipal-AgentUncertaintyInformation

Wikisum home: Index of all summaries by title, by author, or by subject.