Public Organization Review

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 139–151 | Cite as

Bureaucratic Autonomy in the U.S. Separation of Powers: Evidence from Cabinet Departments

  • Anthony M. Bertelli


Theories of delegation posit that politicians have the incentive to decrease discretion when ideological conflict with an administrative agency increases. Yet agencies can use their expertise to appropriate informational benefits from delegation helping to increase bureaucratic autonomy. Such theories only indirectly address the impact of ideological conflict on bureaucrats’ perceptions about the extent of the discretion they are afforded on the job. Does the perception of discretion by bureaucrats depend on ideological conflicts between the legislative and executive branches? Statistical results from dynamic panel models provide evidence that that closer ideological alignment with the U.S. Congress than the president increases perceived discretion; that a negative relationship emerges between confirmation times and perceived discretion, but a small and opposite relationship exists among supervisory levels; that variance in the ideological portfolio of cabinet secretaries decreases perceived discretion overall, but has no effect on supervisory cadres; and that divergence between the goals and legal context of an agency and the president’s policy orientation are associated with lower perceived discretion.


Bureaucratic discretion Delegation 



I thank George Krause, Nolan McCarty, David Lewis, Peter Robertson and seminar participants at Princeton University for helpful comments. The Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise at the University of Southern California provided financial support for this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public ServiceNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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