How Organizational Capacity Can Improve Electoral Accountability

The forthcoming article “How Organizational Capacity Can Improve Electoral Accountability by Dana Foarta is summarized by the author below. 

Bureaucratic institutions are central to policy implementation. They formulate and execute plans for how government programs are put in practice. In many policy areas, several bureaucratic agencies have overlapping jurisdictions, meaning that any one of these agencies may be tasked with implementing a given government policy. Politicians have freedom to make this assignment choice. In this paper, I show how this allocation decision affects not only the bureaucracy itself, but also the formation of policy, the size and duration of government programs, and ultimately the voters’ ability to hold elected politicians accountable. 

The choice of which agency implements policy has tangible implications because of the significant differences between agencies. Some agencies have developed capacity to withstand political pressures, while others are still under close political control of the executive. Politicians may be tempted to assign policy implementation to agencies with less capacity, where they can exert control. Yet, this paper shows how doing so may be electorally dangerous. The political decision of which agency will implement policy feeds back through the political system. This political choice informs voters as to a politician’s true intent. The threat of electoral punishment in turn disciplines the politician’s behavior, reducing excessive reliance on low capacity agencies. 

Another consequence of the link between a politician’s electoral standing and her choice of bureaucratic implementation is that it enables agencies to develop ownership over government programs: the politician will relinquish control over policy implementation to higher capacity agencies to help her reelection chances. As a result, agencies keep control over their assigned government programs, and they keep them running long into the future. Therefore, multiple agencies with overlapping roles persist over time as a rational response to the problem of electoral accountability. Having multiple agencies of different capacity tasked with the same policy’s implementation might at first glance seem inefficient. Yet, this paper shows that such a bureaucratic structure may in fact serve the interests of voters, by facilitating better electoral accountability. 

 About the Author: Dana Foarta is an Assistant Professor of Political Economy at Stanford University. Their research “How Organizational Capacity Can Improve Electoral Accountability” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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