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Epstein and O'Halloran: Delegating Powers

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.

Epstein and O'Halloran. 1999. Delegating Powers.

General Argument

Under unified government, legislatures delegate more to executive agencies; under divided government, legislatures delegate more to independent agencies/commissions (p 154-155, from Volden 2002).

Chapter-by-Chapter Notes

Chapter 5: Data and Postwar Trends


Uses Mayhew's (1991 -- Divided we Govern) list of important legislation in the postwar era (those reported in year end round-ups of both New York Times and Washington Post + those captured by historians and political observers in hindsight)

Dependent Variable

Key Dependent Variable: amount of discretionary authority delegated to executive branch agencies. To do this, they create a "discretion index" composed of two factors:

The authors read and code each of the 257 bills to determine whether they delegated authority (whether to courts, executive branch, local govt, etc). On average, each bill contained 12.8 provisions to delegate authority

The authors are interested in 'who' gets delegated to. This may include

They are also interested in procedural constraints, such as appointment power limits, time limits, spending limits, legislative action required, executive action required, legislative veto, reporting requirements, consultation requirements, public hearings, appeals procedures, rule-making requirements, exemptions, compensation, direct oversight. If delegation involves significant constraints, then Congress is trying to limit its agent's discretion.


The relationship between the delegation ratio and the constraint ratio is positive and significant. The "discretion index" uses these two ratios. Discretion = r-c (delegation minus relative constraints)

Chapter 6: Empirical Findings about Delegation and Congressional-Executive Relations

Does divided government lower executive branch discretion? YES

Do individual members of congress favor delegation to members of their own party? YES

Do vetos or veto threats affect discretion?

Do legislatures rely on federalism or judicial oversight to avoid delegation problems in times of divided government? SOMEWHAT

Do legislatures give power to actors further from direct presidential control under divided government? YES

Research on similar subjects


Comparative PoliticsBureaucracyDivided GovernmentPrincipal-Agent

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