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Huber and McCarty: Bureaucratic capacity, delegation, and political reform

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.

Huber and McCarty. 2004. Bureaucratic capacity, delegation, and political reform. APSR 98 (3):481-94.

The Model, In Brief

Low Bureaucratic Capacity Reduces Incentives to Comply

Low BC reduces the incentives to comply with legislation. This is because the ineffective bureaucrat will have to move much further from her preferred point in order to reduce the risk of noncompliance. At some point, reducing risk simply isn't worth the loss in preferred actions. See Figure 3.


  1. Because of significant agency loss when BC is low, there will be little incentive for politicians to reform an allied bureaucracy. It's already yielding the politician's preferred outcomes, not because of tight delegation but because that's the bureau's preference.
  2. There is often a trap of bureaucratic reform. Politicians always benefit from improving BC. They will be most willing to do so when they have high expertise and monitoring is likely. But, incentives to increase either are low when BC is already low.
  3. It is essential to implement comprehensive reforms, including improving bureaucratic capacity, increasing executive or legislative expertise and strengthening judicial enforcement.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Huber, John (author)McCarty, Nolan (author)Comparative PoliticsBureaucracyCivil Service Reform

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