At a time when the federal bureaucracy has become the focus of intense scrutiny, understanding the inner-workings and outside influences are more important than ever. Broadly, my research agenda focuses on how the government works, makes decisions, and interacts with the public. I approach these interests through a variety of methods, including gathering government data, qualitative research, and experimental methodology.
“Understanding Political-Economic Development in the American South,” (with George A. Krause) Forthcoming. Economics and Politics.
“Evaluating the Effects of Multiple Opinion Rationales on Supreme Court Legitimacy,” (with Chris W. Bonneau, Jarrod Kelly, Kira Pronin, and Shane Redman). 2017. American Politics Research 45(3): 335-365.
Lost in Translation: How Bureaucratic Hierarchies & Networks Limit Presidential Control over Distributive Policymaking in U.S. Federal Agencies
Scholarship on the politics of distribution have uncovered how presidents deliver benefits strategically through federal agencies. While interagency differences are incorporated into the distribution literature, intra-agency hierarchy is not considered. Instead, an assumption of uniform control by the president exists, without considering the impacts of organizational hierarchy and the limitations of presidential influence within individual agencies. As the government has grown, the president faces challenges to oversee agencies that have expanded beyond traditional means of control. This work explores vertical insulation in agencies, while considering the effects of politicization and relationships between appointees and career executives (Resh, 2015), arguing that presidential influence is most potent at the top of the hierarchy, and weakest at the bottom. Presidential preferences are explored using campaign contributions by federal contractors to the president and their influence over contracting awards from offices within agencies. The contracting data represents all contracts awarded by federal agencies from 2001 through 2016. This work aims to show that presidential influence within federal agencies is not uniform, and instead is conditional on organizational hierarchy. Furthermore, this is the first study to apply a hierarchical framework to understand how decisions are made differently within offices in agencies, rather than treating agencies as homogeneous entities. The findings confirm the hypothesis that donations by government contractors yield larger contractors in the highest levels of government, but they do not receive the same advantages offices deeper in the organizational hierarchy.
Estimating Federal Agency Legitimacy
Scholars have studied public reaction to government behavior by measuring feelings of legitimacy toward several institutions, including Congress and the courts. Despite considerable literature on institutional legitimacy, minimal attention has been paid to the agencies that actually implement public policy. Federal departments frequently provide information about these policies and programs to the public. Unique from Congress and the courts, agencies consist of appointed as well as career staff, thus creating the potential for the dissemination of policy information from either political or apolitical personnel. The source of the message, whether it is a political appointee, a bureaucrat, or the agency itself, can impact feelings of legitimacy toward the agency because of the political baggage of the source. I argue that due to the political associations of agency leadership, non-political appointees will create stronger feelings of legitimacy toward agencies. While appointees may benefit from a stronger title and possibly name recognition, bureaucrats benefit from perceived neutrality. This study will address this gap in our understanding of citizen attitudes of legitimacy depending on the source of policy information through the lens of federal agencies. Specifically, a survey experiment will use a vignette as a treatment, with the source as an agency secretary, a general employee, or a statement from the agency to shed light on public feelings of legitimacy toward federal agencies.
Executive Control and Negative Distributive Policymaking: U.S. Federal Grants and the Contraction of Administrative Authority (with George Krause)
This study analyzes the contraction of administrative authority reflected by reductions in existing U.S. federal grant awards. We contend that presidents target these grant retrenchments for purposes of maintaining executive control over distributive policymaking by providing less severe programmatic cuts to those federal agencies that they are expected to be more compliant to administration goals, as well as led by more capable agency heads. The evidence from over 842,000 grant retrenchments from 1984-2008 offers compelling evidence for this type of administrative presidency strategy, especially for moderate to high levels of these programmatic cuts. These findings demonstrate that presidents take into account the administrative landscape when choosing to retract distributive policymaking benefits for purposes of consolidating executive authority consistent with both managerial and control theories of the administrative presidency. Moreover, these considerations exert more pervasive effects than compared to either electoral and legislator targeting explanations commonly offered for understanding distributive policymaking.
The Administrative Foundations of Executive Particularism: How Institutional Arrangements Shape the Allocation of U.S. Federal Grants (with George Krause)
Although elected officials are known to engage in distributive policymaking behavior, administrative agencies play a crucial policymaking role in determining grant funding criteria and awards. We advance a theory of constrained executive particularism which posits that presidents seek to balance policy control with bureaucratic discretion when allocating distributive policymaking authority to administrative agencies. Employing a sample of U.S. federal grants covering 44 agencies from 1984-2008, we find that larger percentage changes in U.S. federal grant allocations to administrative agencies occur when a counterbalance exists between the presidential loyalty of bureaucratic leaders and politicized review of agency policy decisions. In addition, we find that an opposition partisan Congress under divided party government serves as an effective mechanism to undermine this balance in the direction of greater bureaucratic discretion at the expense of presidential control. Both the logic and evidence underscores the complexities associated with executive branch governance in the realm of distributive policymaking that cannot be ascribed merely to presidential power.