Middle-level Officials and Policy

  • Edward C. Page


Although you would not know it from the amount of academic attention they attract, senior civil servants do not account for the totality of civil service ‘policy makers’ (for an overview of recent comparative studies of the civil service see Horton, 2011). The terms ‘senior’ or ‘top’ and ‘policy makers’ are extremely imprecise. We do not have a ready way of defining which particular civil servants are and are not involved in making ‘policy’: all employees make decisions of some sort, but not necessarily of the kind that political scientists would consider policy decisions, whether because they are humdrum detail or the ‘implementation’ decisions of ‘street level bureaucrats’ (Lipsky, 1980). To define anyone as a policy maker as opposed to being involved in policy development raises further problems of definition. Numbers of those described as ‘top’ civil servants can range from several dozen to several hundreds even for the same country depending on how many ranks or grades one decides to include in the definition (see Halligan, 2012: 116). Moreover, while scholars make efforts to offer comparable definitions of ‘senior’ in different countries (see the essays in Page and Wright, 1999), one recent attempt to define it conceded that it was unable to offer one and settled for a ‘compromise’ (see Kuperus and Rode, 2008). So it is not possible to say with any confidence how small or large a proportion of civil servants who are involved in policy making fall into the category of ‘senior.’


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© Edward C. Page 2015

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