Bending the RulesProcedural Politicking in the Bureaucracy

Bending the RulesProcedural Politicking in the Bureaucracy

Rachel Augustine Potter

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226621609

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Who determines the fuel standards for our cars? What about whether Plan B, the morning-after pill, is sold at the local pharmacy? Many people assume such important and controversial policy decisions originate in the halls of Congress. But the choreographed actions of Congress and the president account for only a small portion of the laws created in the United States. Most law is actually created by administrative rules issued by federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, where unelected bureaucrats with policy goals and preferences respond to the incentives created by a complex, procedure-bound rulemaking process. With Bending the Rules, Potter shows that rulemaking is an intensely political activity in its own right. Because rulemaking occurs in a separation of powers system, bureaucrats are not free to implement their preferred policies unimpeded: the president, Congress, and the courts can all get involved in the process, often at the bidding of interest groups. However, rather than capitulating to demands, bureaucrats routinely employ “procedural politicking,” using their deep knowledge of the process to strategically insulate their proposals from political scrutiny and interference. Tracing the rulemaking process from when an agency first begins working on a rule to when it completes that regulatory action, Potter shows how bureaucrats use procedures to resist interference from Congress, the President, and the courts at each stage of the process. This exercise reveals that unelected bureaucrats wield considerable influence over the direction of public policy in the United States.